Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop tackles income inequality in 45th year
Story written by Jordan Meier.
Celebrating its 45th year, the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop welcomed 18 high school journalists to the MU campus July 11. Over the course of nine days, the students tackled the pressing matter of the income gap by reporting and writing stories on varying topics that relate to the theme.
The program began in 1970 when the late Robert Knight, a journalism professor at MU, embarked on a mission to diversify the newsroom. Funded by Dow Jones, the program was originally called the Urban Journalism Workshop and was targeted high school students of different ethic backgrounds.
According to the Missouri School of Journalism’s website, in 1990, the name was changed to African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American, or AHANA. Then, in 2007, the name was changed to the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop and expanded to include all students regarding of ethnicity.
This was due to a lawsuit that was filed against the Dow Jones Workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University for excluding specific races from being able to participate in their workshops.
The final settlement of the lawsuit said, “the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund will not employ Publicizing Material, or otherwise make any statement, that indicates any preference or limitation on the basis of race in the selection of participants in any Workshop.”
MUJW director Anna Romero said the program used to be two weeks long and include more participants. She said she remembers there being roughly 50 students some years. Because of cuts in funding, however, they made the workshop shorter and with a smaller number of participants.
“They need more programs like this,” said Romero. “ My fear is that the funding will completely dry up someday.”
Although the workshop has changed, it still gives high school students who are interested in journalism the chance to experience the industry firsthand.
“MUJW has been a really great experience…it provided me the opportunity to further my journalistic education,” said MUJW broadcast student Cullen Ecoffey.
From hunting down sources to meeting deadlines and doing accuracy checks, MUJW gives its participants a full immersion into the professional world of journalism.
“It makes you grow up fast that’s for sure,” said Aaron Ladd, a former MUJW participant from 2013, and a current MUJW dorm counselor.
In past years, the workshop has tackled themes like sustainability and healthcare, but this year MUJW embarked on the more sensitive topic of income inequality.
Columbia Missourian Editor and journalism professor Laura Johnston is the 2015 managing editor for MUJW. Johnston said the theme of income inequality was chosen because it was a topic that seemed to be constantly appearing in both local and national news.
“It’s a chance to be immersed in a national conversation going on around you,” said Johnston.
According to Johnston, the topic is also broad enough that students can take a lot of different angles to produce a variety of different articles. From stories about local thrift shops and food banks, to articles on how the criminal justice system disadvantages low income individuals, MUJW students tackled all aspects of the income gap and shed light on its impact in Columbia.
“I really like the theme,” said MUJW participant Emily Adams. “I think its good to talk about how you can address the sensitive issues as a journalist and as a person.”
Talking about such a sensitive topic does have its challenges, though. Students had to deal with the issue of anonymous sources, a lack of interest from possible sources and a variety of other complications, but in the end it proved to be very worthwhile.
“It is not easy, but if you are passionate about journalism, it’s worth it,” Ecoffey said.