At a time when freelancers and temps comprise more than one-third of the workforce, the Pacific Media Workers Guild is reaching out to the next generation of journalists. Our goal: Prepare them for life as self-employed professionals and arm them with the information they need to advocate for themselves and their fellow media workers.
We do this through our innovative mentorship/training program called Bay News Rising. With Kat Anderson, project director, and Rebecca Rosen Lum, program manager/instructor at the helm, our union offers a hands-on program to college journalism students with a mission: to spur serious reporting on labor, workplace issues, women’s rights and other social justice topics while teaching students to insist upon fair treatment and fair pay as the American newsroom changes.
Out of 60 applicants from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University, City College of SF and Oberlin College, we selected 11 students to participate in our 9-week summer program. Each was paired with a “media mentor,” all professional journalists and union members.
Our program instructor is award-winning journalist and our Local president – Rebecca Rosen Lum. She worked with our students on pitches, story angles and editing. She was assisted by two Bay News Rising alumni, Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez and Sara Bloomberg.
The students met in the Guild offices every Tuesday and Thursday night from 6 pm to 9 pm. They began their stint by organizing themselves and negotiating an agreement with management (Guild leaders) covering work conditions, student publication fees and a student freelance rate. It was agreed they’d be paid $100 per story, $25 for photos/art, and $15 per hour to work on the website or do other work supportive of the program.
The students heard from 16 journalism trailblazers and veterans, including longtime Washington Post reporter Cynthia Gorney, investigative reporter A.C. Thompson (“Frontline,” ProPublica), David Weir, founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting, as well as Guild Freelance Unit Chair Bill Snyder. The group also heard from labor lawyer Bill Sokol, whose visit coincided with a transit workers’ strike, former CWA officer Steve Early, and TNG acting secretary/treasurer Sara Steffens.
Within the context of our theme for the summer – reporting on minimum- and low-wage workers – each student wrote at least 2 articles for the program’s website baynewsrising.org. One student coordinated the build-out of the website and posting of the stories. Rosen Lum directed art and photography and a program assistant developed graphics as needed. We will continue to post student work even though the summer program has ended; students are still finishing assignments and are eager to get more freelance work. Their bios and photos also are on the website.
We prodded the students to get out of their comfort zones and interview laborers, grocers, home health caregivers, retail workers; people juggling multiple jobs and people keeping their cupboards full by working in the underground economy. They also connected with leaders at the helm of the fight for decent pay and working conditions. Two students found these experiences so compelling that they have added labor studies as a minor to their educational goals.
We also visited KALW radio station, KQED studios in SF, and hosted a LaborFest event in partnership with the Mexican Museum in Ft. Mason, called “Mendez Rising.” About 50 people attended that event. The students were also invited to our first annual Freelancers Awards evening. Many opportunities to form community were given to the students, who had never experienced such things.
We created a SurveyMonkey for an end-of-the summer evaluation and invited student feedback on how to make the program even more meaningful. The students gave the program extremely high marks, and also offered 2-3 ideas that we will incorporate into Bay News Rising 2015. Here is a sampling:
Bay News Rising was packed with so much content that gave me more than my last two semesters of school combined. It’s hard to explain how grateful I am to be apart of this experience and I hope it continues summer-after-summer for more students to use as tools for their future. . .
I think we all learned a lot about labor issues because of the specific focus, giving us a wide berth of knowledge for our reporting. Even though I wish I was able to do more and work more quickly, I think it was a wonderful experience and great addition to my professional and educational life. . .
I really valued all of the guest speakers who came in to meet with us. It was also my first time learning about labor issues and investigative reporting so I am glad I had the opportunity. I also liked how most of the guest speakers offered us freelance work. I would recommend the program to a friend because it offers such a different experience than a classroom setting. . .
Bay News Rising has taught me from various angles why unpaid work is unjust, unfair and inhumane. Bay News Rising has given me a particular interest in labor studies and I am taking the lessons I have learned from BNR with me. . .
Two of our students attended NetRoots Nation in Detroit. They were sponsored by The Newspaper Guild. They attended a meeting with other young activists who opined about programming they wish they had. Our two students shared their experiences with Bay News Rising and became the envy of the group. What we are doing is unique, helpful and should be continued and replicated.