It’s the latest, breaking news for some that the UNM Communication and Journalism (C&J) Department is setting the stage properly for future journalists. Yet for the minds behind the UNM-based Local News Fellowship, it’s a story they’ve been following since 2019.
“This program has been shockingly successful at solving a historic problem in our industry,” reporter and fellowship manager Gwyneth Doland said. “A huge amount of learning to do this job is done on the job.”
Doland and C&J Professor Michael Marcotte spearhead the fellowship with the generous support of the New Mexico Local News fund to offer a select handful of students the chance to gain hands-on experience in the world of media right when they graduate.
“We are crafting a pathway from school to career,” Marcotte said. “That bridge is not as simple as you think.”
That financial assistance, which began with $100,000 starting in 2020, allows each of these students to embrace their passion while earning just under a starting salary in journalism.
Each student makes $26,000, with additional grants going towards the local newsrooms that sponsor them for nine months.
“Employers today don't have the resources and flexibility that they used to have and invest in training people on the job,” Doland said. “There's this disconnect between students straight out of college and where they need to be, so we are solving the problem.”
In this current cohort, UNM fellows, and students partaking in the fellowship through New Mexico State University, have roles in KOB-TV, The Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican, Source NM, and KUNM.
Through careful delegation and selection, Marcotte and Doland pick and match fellows with spaces for their skill sets and career paths.
The goal is to not just provide a meaningful, paid learning experience, but to manifest journalists in New Mexico for years to come.
“Our ultimate metric of success after they've done the fellowship is if they stick around, in New Mexico primarily,” Marcotte said.
Including every cohort, the Local News Fellowship has a 75% retention rate for keeping students turned journalists in the state.
“They all get job offers because of the investment in time, energy, and mentoring that our news organizations have given these young people, as well as how hard they work,” Doland said.
Marcotte says an especially vital component to quality local reporting, is developing people who care about the community they grew up in.
“There is an absolute importance of having boots on the ground in the local community, covering local government, local businesses, and local schools, factually through a professional journalistic lens,” he said.
This effort at UNM has not gone unnoticed. According to a new publication with The Local Fix, University of California at Berkeley has based a new journalism fellowship off of UNM’s structure. So far, that new program has received $25 million in funding.
In the years to come, Marcotte aims for this program to receive recurring funding from the state. The New Mexico Local News fund concurs, intending to introduce a proposal for support from the state legislature in the upcoming session.
“I want the program to grow be ongoing,” he said. “We’re really proud of the program and how it’s made a difference.”
It’s especially prevalent in a time where local newsrooms are crippling under budget cuts and local newspapers are shutting down left and right. Preserving journalism through this fellowship and beyond has greater implications than just filling job postings.
“It's absolutely vital for democracy, for community health, and well-being,” he said. “It can be challenging, but very rewarding to make that kind of difference in a community.”
Marcotte says local newsrooms are shrinking, are strapped, and need fresh talent to grow the next generation. Doland agrees, adding there also needs to be a focus outside of the newsroom.
“We have trust issues in the media now, and every media organization on the planet is trying to solve that issue,” she said.
That mutual growth between the employee and the employer, which goes into the craft itself, leads to stronger storytelling and a commitment towards repairing that public trust. This fellowship is the stepping stone to bringing fresh journalists into the fold.
“Students who choose to pursue journalism are believers,” Doland said. “They are in it because they believe a robust journalistic ecosystem is absolutely essential to a functioning democracy, and they feel a sense of urgency of doing the job that we as Americans need them to do.”
Recruitment has officially begun for the 5th fellowship cycle. You can apply by scanning the QR code right here or by visiting the Local News Fund website.