Barely 20 percent of adults can name their state legislators, according to a semi-recent survey. Half couldn't say if their state had a one- or two-house legislature. Over 60 percent didn’t know if being a state legislator was a full-time job. UNM’s Department of Communication & Journalism is working to change that—and build a new generation of statehouse reporters in the process.  

Professor of Practice Gwyneth Doland was recently named a Statehouse Faculty Champion by The Center for Community News at the University of Vermont, after she agreed to start one of 19 programs engaging students in reporting on state government, legislation and politics .  

“Our program has started small but we hope to grow it. Next year if we’re able to build a bigger program we can offer our students’ stories to other news organizations. Next year’s 60-day session will be logistically easier, so I’m hopeful we’ll do it again,” Doland said. 

This past 30-day legislative session, Doland took her capstone reporting class, ‘Advanced Multimedia Journalism’ to the State Capitol, and planted it in the hustle and bustle of the Roundhouse.  

“This semester I launched it as a pilot project. With a short timeline before the legislative session, I wasn’t able to create a new class, so instead I used the session as the focus of the capstone student work,” she said.   

The eight-week, in-person class met every Wednesday in Santa Fe, and got the full state legislature experience. While working on multimedia stories, they attended committee hearings and floor sessions, observed presentations and protests and interviewed lawmakers, community members and lobbyists.  

The in-person element was essential, Doland said. 

“Many students who are graduating in 2024 spent a big part of their early college career learning online during the pandemic. I felt very fortunate that this program allowed me to make up for some of what they had lost in terms of opportunities for real-world, on-the-ground reporting,” she said. 

It’s easy to write letters to your representative, or criticize their choices if they don’t go your way, but it’s another thing entirely to ask them the hard questions. It can be even more challenging as a young journalist, learning the ropes. 

“They learned a ton about interviewing and handling sources, and that’s how it works, you know? You just stand up and ask someone a bunch of questions, and then you do it again and again, and pretty soon it’s second nature,” Doland said. “I’ve always loved the small-town feel of our statehouse. Most elected officials, staffers and issue advocates are easy to approach and talk to. That’s a tremendous gift for reporters, especially new ones. Everyone you need for a basic story is already in the building and they’re usually willing to talk.”  

The C&J students gained a lot of belief in their own skills, even getting the chance to meet and talk to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in the cabinet room.  

“The number one thing they said was that the experience got them out of their comfort zone, and that’s perfect! Walking up to strangers, asking tough questions and holding those in power accountable can be uncomfortable,” Doland said. “You just have to get your feet wet, and they did! This program gave them a lot of valuable practice in talking to powerful people, which can be scary! I was so proud of the way they stepped up.” 

The statehouse press corps has shrunk dramatically over the past two decades as news organizations have shrunk and seasoned veterans have retired. The Albuquerque Journal, for example, lost its two statehouse reporters last year and didn’t replace them before the session, instead filling in with help from other desks.  

Doland’s class was designed in part to start paving the pathway for students into one of the most important and challenging beats in journalism. 

“The decisions that are made at the statehouse impact every element of our lives, from taxes to school lunches, and the issues on the table are the big ones that we’re all thinking about: jobs, crime, climate change, abortion, the cost of college tuition,” Doland said.   

“Being a statehouse reporter is fun in part because it’s a challenge to keep up with so many complicated issues. What I hope I taught was that instead of being afraid of what you don’t know, take pleasure in the opportunity to learn new things with each story. It doesn’t take long for you to become an expert on something.” – UNM Communication & Journalism Professor in Practice Gwyneth Doland 

Doland also hopes, as a manager of the UNM-partnered New Mexico Local News Fellowship and Internship Program, future fellows and interns can gain this state reporting exposure.  

“A lot of the ideas that show up in the session are actually workshopped by committees during the summer. That’s a challenge for regular classes but an opportunity for summer interns. I’m working now on ideas for getting our New Mexico Local News Fellows and Interns involved in collaborative coverage,” she said. 

Advanced Multimedia Journalism student Brody Foster is a key example of how statehouse reporting can create a critical foundation for a career in journalism. Through Statehouse Faculty Champions, the University of Missouri reached out to students in other states, like New Mexico, to work on a collaborative voting rights piece.  

“I took that opportunity. I wrote about what big changes around elections are happening in New Mexico and then sent it off,” he said. 

Some of those key changes he learned in action during the latest and previous legislative session. That included, he said, the Voting Rights Act, House Bill 4, which created a permanent absentee voters list, Senate Bill 5 which banned guns from polling places and House Bill 182, which required the disclosure of Artificial Intelligence (A.I) if used in political campaigns.

selfie of brody
Brody Foster


Foster also had previously earned a spot as a New Mexico Local News Intern, when he worked with the investigative team at local broadcast station KOB-TV. 

“He got a taste for hard news there. I thought he’d enjoy the election story and he did! Our program here is small but our students are brimming with potential. Given the opportunity they will always rise to the occasion,” Doland said. 

This most recent legislative session ended with 72 bills passed by the legislature. During the session, C&J partner the New Mexico Local News Fund  secured $200,000 for the fellowship and internship program through the Department of Workforce Solutions. The money is for a two-year period during which Doland and the News Fund hope the state will agree to permanently fund the program.  

“I think UNM and the C&J department are trying to give students like me awesome opportunities like this one and helping us get that real world experience,” Foster said. “I think it says that we have great professors in our department and that if anyone wants to do journalism as a career, UNM is a great place to go for it. I believe our department has a ton of great opportunities for students. I've gotten to do a lot of awesome stuff that I never would have dreamed of.”