Board member blog post: Why not journalism?

donna.layBy Donna Myrow, JAWS Board Member

Joy Shioshita investigated the illegal incarceration of minors in mental health facilities. Her reporting efforts changed a law in California to give teens with mental health problems the right of due process before a panel of physicians.

Joy is a librarian in Berkeley, Calif.

Josie Valderrama wrote a compelling story about the L.A. Police Department’s abuse of 30 black and Hispanic teenagers playing ball in a suburban neighborhood park. Her reporting resulted in a $200,000 settlement for the teens.

Josie is finishing her Ph.D. thesis in psychology.

Minerva Chavez was a student activist and political reporter for L.A. Youth for four years.

Minerva now has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and teaches education reform at a Southern California college.

In my time at L.A. Youth, I trained hundreds of young women like the three described above. But few pursued journalism after high school. Those who launched journalism careers after college left after three to four years and transitioned to education, public policy or social services.

Why not journalism?

I joined JAWS in part to find the answer to my question.

At CAMP, Dori Maynard assured me that there is the potential for a much better reality. New conditions in our society — social justice, conquering poverty, equality of the sexes — are opening up the possibility of important changes that trickle down to young people. Dori said that activist teens often prefer to be participants in societal change, not witnesses, and that they carry it over to adulthood.

Dawn Garcia and I talked about the demands of journalism and the limited financial rewards. We exchanged ideas that high school newspapers generally tend to be dominated by college-bound, middle- or upper-class students, with those of low income or with a vocational bent participating in minimal numbers.

Sheila Solomon and I are thrilled to share a mutual friend, L.A. Youth alum Johnathan Briggs. Sheila recruited Johnathan to The Chicago Tribune, where he covered urban affairs for several years. They met at a NABJ convention. He decided to become a participant in social change and resigned to complete his master’s in health policy and work in strategic communications.

I have some answers to my question, but more work needs to be done to increase and sustain diversity.

JAWS is committed to raising women’s voices on the op-ed pages and in media leadership positions. Members mentor women in college to encourage them to apply for jobs in journalism. JAWS has an aggressive approach to diversity. The Fellows program provides scholarships to CAMP from underrepresented groups, including women of color, women with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. CAMP is a fantastic opportunity for specialized training, networking and mentoring.

I recently heard L.A. Youth alum Ambar Espinoza reporting for Rhode Island NPR, that’s a little progress. I’ll encourage her to apply for the Fellows project.

But we need more people like her, and we need to encourage them to stay in journalism, so they can help with our mission to work toward a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.