Newsies are not always known for loving math, but this really is a perfect equation… Take young journalists who are hungry for experience, introduce them to news rooms in central and northern Michigan, add in funding and oversight from the public radio station that covers the whole area (50 counties, more than half the state of Michigan) and you have a collaborative team focused on producing excellent print, broadcast and web stories in underserved, rural areas.
Under the Michigan News Group, J students are vetted at a day long Boot Camp that trains and evaluates participants. The most promising students are offered paid summer internships at newspapers around Michigan. The interns live in the community and work with the local newspaper, in-person or remotely, depending on COVID restrictions.
Stories reflect the challenges rural communities experience – health, agriculture, Tribal issues, COVID impacts, of course, and charming human-interest stories. Each intern produced an average of 20 stories each month as well as a long-form enterprise story to cap off the summer, this year focusing on the impacts of the coronavirus in their communities.
In 2020, its second year, the Michigan News Group placed four interns. In the summer of 2021, we are planning to place eight. It costs around $6,000 for each summer intern’s experience. WCMU funds the program out of its general fund, and we are reaching out to donors who value news.
The Michigan News Group is both a meaningful training opportunity for J students and a common sense means to address news deserts that plague rural communities. Newspapers that have watched staffs shrink over recent years, only to run headlong into coronavirus, are thrilled to have help appear at their door. And WCMU has found itself uniquely positioned to make this program a reality. We view newspapers as journalistic cousins, not competitors. Our license is held by Central Michigan University and the campus is home to our operation. We have hundreds of talented journalism and broadcast students taking classes literally across the street from our office. And we have more than 50-years’ experience serving rural communities. It’s a genuinely unique partnership between WCMU and rural newspapers.