years ago, I was a senior at Princeton and just beginning my second
semester as editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian, the school’s
independent student newspaper. A few months before, The New York
Times had published its stunning sixteen-part series on how race
affects the lives of Americans, and my fellow editors and I decided
we wanted to attempt a similar series focusing on Princeton students
and professors. In addition to writing about how race affects everything
from sports teams to religious groups to roommates, we also wrote
about how race affects The Daily Princetonian itself.
introspective piece in December of that year focused on the fact
that the staff of the Prince (as the newspaper is known on campus)
has, for a long time, been overwhelmingly white and Asian-American.
It is a problem that generations of Prince editors, despite good
intentions, have been unable to correct, and that, most disturbingly,
has proven to be self-perpetuating. With few black and Latino reporters,
the Prince has not always done a strong job of covering the black
and Latino communities on campus. As a result, black and Latino
students often conclude the newspaper isn’t for them and become
disinclined to write.
is by no means limited to Princeton. Black and Latino students are
underrepresented in the newsrooms of virtually every elite college
newspaper in America. Never is this more painfully clear than at
the semi-annual Ivy League editors conferences. Among scores of
writers and editors, it is often difficult to find a black or Latino
face in the room. This phenomenon predictably carries over into
the world of professional journalism, where blacks and Latinos are
dramatically underrepresented in newsrooms as well.
later, after our term at the Prince ended, I hatched an idea to
offer a modest way to begin addressing the problem we had written
about. Over lunch with some of my former editors, I proposed starting
a summer camp for black and Latino high school students who were
editors of their high school papers or had otherwise demonstrated
interest in writing and journalism. We decided to organize a week
at Princeton in August to expose them to the exciting world of collegiate
journalism, offering encouragement and resources to stick with writing
and reporting in college and beyond. Within weeks, The Daily Princetonian
Class of 2001 Summer Journalism Program was born.
financial backing from Princeton University and the John S. and
James L. Knight Foundation. Hodding Carter, the organization’s president,
was particularly enthusiastic in his support. In the fall, we sent
out applications to school districts throughout the northeast corridor.
We spoke to principals and guidance counselors and, most importantly,
newspaper advisers. We particularly wanted to target those high
school juniors whom elite schools like Princeton were not reaching—or
who were disinclined to apply to such schools because of their socioeconomic
circumstances. So we limited ourselves to public high schools in
disadvantaged urban communities. By the winter, thirty-three students
had applied from fifteen different high schools. In March, three
of us interviewed every student who had applied and selected a terrific
group. On August 20, 2002, our first class of Daily Princetonian
summer journalists stepped off the train to begin their week at
Princeton—twenty-one students from thirteen high schools in Washington,
Baltimore, Philadelphia, Camden, Newark, New York, Hartford, Springfield,
and Boston. For many of our students, just getting on the train
and coming to Princeton was a big step. Many had never spent time
away from home before, and few had spent any time on college campuses.
We had planned
the week to be a frenetic introduction to both college life and
collegiate journalism, and it was. The students lived in dorms together
and ate at one of Princeton’s cafeterias. Each morning began with
a seminar on college admissions and each evening featured an hour-long
meeting between students and their mentors on the program staff.
(With twenty program staff members—a mix of young Prince alums and
current Prince reporters—we had a one-to-one student-to-teacher
ratio that made such mentoring possible.) In addition to participating
in seminars on news writing, opinion writing, sports writing and
arts writing, our students met with journalists from The Washington
Post, The Miami Herald, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. They toured
The New York Times and ABC News in New York, then covered a Yankees
game later that night.
also grilled New Jersey Secretary of State Regena Thomas during
a mock hour-long press conference she arranged at the state capital
and grilled each other during long and contentious late-night discussions.
The week culminated
in the students, writing, designing, editing and producing their
own edition of the Prince. In true college newspaper form, they
were up all night getting the paper finished. When they arrived
at the program’s closing brunch banquet—just a few hours after leaving
the Prince newsroom—to find copies of the paper waiting for them,
they were wearing the same sleep-deprived looks of pride that generations
of college newspaper editors have worn while waking up to the products
of their long nights’ work. If our students hold on to that feeling,
they will be passionate about journalism for a long time to come.
week’s focus was on journalism, we also devoted time to the college
admissions process. Almost none of our students had even considered
going to an elite school before arriving at the program. Though
many were among the top students at their high schools—with 4.0
GPAs and impressive extracurricular activities to match—too many
had been told by guidance counselors to aim low during the college
search process. During their week at Princeton, we tried to show
them the range of possibilities they could aspire to. Again and
again, we emphasized that it does matter where you go to college,
that going to a top school can open doors that will change your
life, and that many elite schools—while certainly expensive—offer
outstanding financial aid packages that make college affordable.
In general, we discovered that our students had not been well-prepared
for the college application process. None had heard of the SAT IIs.
One had been told by a teacher not to take the SATs more than once.
Few realized that a liberal arts education is often a better training
for journalism than a more narrow curriculum focused on communications.
We spent much
of our week trying to steer our students in ambitious directions.
We also gave them practical tips about the admissions process well-known
to students at affluent schools. We don’t know yet where they will
be admitted. But, we have tried to give them a sense of the possibilities.
Based on what our students told us at the end of the week, we think
we succeeded. “If it weren’t for the program, I wouldn’t be thinking
about going to an Ivy League school,” one of our students wrote
to me over e-mail. Her feelings were typical.
of our program staff will be working closely with our students in
the weeks and months to come to help them finalize their list of
schools, edit college essays, study for the SATs, prepare for college
interviews--and do everything else that guidance departments
at private and affluent high schools often do for their students.
For as long as they are interested in the world of journalism, we
will also help place our students at internships and jobs during
the summers to come.
Even as we
continue to work with our first class of Daily Princetonian Summer
Journalists, we are beginning to think about our second class--and
our third and our fourth. We want to expand the program but still
maintain the one-to-one student-to-teacher ratio. Enlarging the
program will not be easy. But we think we have the potential to
create something special--something that could, in the years
to come, change the world of college journalism for the better.
is the founder and director of The Daily Princetonian Class of 2001
Summer Journalism Program. He is also the editor of The American
Prospect Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Richard Just with members of Summer Journalism Program
Black and Latino students are underrepresented in the newsrooms
of virtually every elite college newspaper in America. Never
is this more painfully clear than at the semi-annual Ivy League
When they arrived at the programs closing brunch banquet--just
a few hours after leaving the Prince newsroom--
to find copies of the paper
waiting for them, they were wearing the same sleep-deprived
looks of pride that generations
of college newspaper editors have worn while waking up to the
products of their long nights work. If our students hold
to that feeling, they will be passionate about journalism
for a long time to come.