After four years, the career training program is being expanded thanks to a state appropriation of an additional $125,000.
The fellowships place journalism graduates into newsrooms around the state. They earn a salary, experience and, in most cases, a job in journalism after completing their nine-month apprenticeship.
C&J Professor of Practice Michael Marcotte oversees the program and Gwyneth Doland manages it. It’s been grant-supported since 2019 thanks to the New Mexico Local News Fund. The fund’s team of Rashad Mahmood and Mark Glaser pitched the case for state support to legislative leaders and State Sen. Peter Wirth readily championed the additional state dollars.
“We're doing something new, exciting and precedent setting,” Marcotte said.
Marcotte helped make the case for that support during a Senate committee hearing at the Roundhouse, emphasizing the contribution of public funding in support of local journalism.
“The lawmakers are very interested in hearing about this. They're concerned about local journalism, media literacy and rural areas struggling,” Marcotte said. “It's been kind of a rickety ladder these days when it comes to journalism training from the high school level all the way up through college and into careers, so we're bringing reinforcement to all that.”
Public funding allows the program to grow from four to seven fellowships, and almost the same number of internships. A total of 15 newsrooms that will also benefit from the program.
“That’s a big increase in newsroom power,” Marcotte said. “When these journalists play a role in serving their local communities, there’s a significant boost in passion, public trust and economic return.”
Doland says the fellowship-internship program is effective at keeping the state’s talented, diverse young people in New Mexico while serving the information needs of local communities.
“It’s a creative, innovative program with a shockingly high success rate,” Doland said.
There’s something here, Doland says, that more and more people are beginning to recognize.
“People are all very concerned about misinformation, and pollution in the information ecosystem,” she said. “We are bringing a new generation of professionals into the workforce to give the public verified, relevant, interesting and important news, and the way we’re doing it is attracting national attention.”
This is something C&J department members and state officials agree on. With a spike in misinformation, an equally sharp decline in the number of newsrooms, and a shift in the industry as a whole, the need for local news cannot be ignored.
“Local news is in crisis. We’re trying to address the disruption and the economic challenges facing local news in the state. This is just one way a university program can help." – Michael Marcotte
Four UNM graduates and one NMSU grad just concluded their 2022-2023 fellowships. Four of them are continuing to work in local news. This is consistent with the overall success rate of the program, with a majority of the fellows ending up staying in New Mexico newsrooms.
C&J’s full-throttle approach to community news has provided it with national attention from California to Vermont. The department also caught the eye of the Scripps-Howard Fund, a powerhouse in local news. They chose UNM as one of six schools to apply for the Roy Howard Community Journalism Center grant.
“If we are lucky enough to get that project, it would be a game changer for the school,” Marcotte said.
Planning is underway to land the grant of up to $3 million, which would support a statewide community news service based at UNM.
“Nothing is a slam dunk but we’re well situated to take everything we're doing to the next level,” Marcotte said.
A lot is ahead for C&J as a whole, and especially the Local News Fellowship Program, where the 2023-2024 cohort is now being selected. The fellows and interns are scheduled to be deployed into their assigned newsrooms in June.