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Portland summer journalism internship program focuses on underrepresented communities for Pamplin Media.

Here's how one journalist describes the state of the industry today:

"Besides informing the public on what is going on around them near and far, journalism can amplify the voices of those who otherwise may not feel heard," said Samantha Kar of Portland. "Journalism initiates a range of conversations, from being lighthearted to meaningful to pressing and vital. In today's digital age, it is crucial that the truth is reported and out there in the midst of pandemonium."

Her words sound like those of a veteran reporter. But Kar is actually a budding journalist. At just 17, she's one of three student journalists whose stories will appear in The Portland Tribune and other outlets in the coming months.

A newly launched partnership between Pamplin Media Group and Metro — the regional government agency that oversees planning, parks and a slew of other activities for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties — will see three student journalists reporting on city-wide issues this summer.

Kar, who grew up in Milwaukie and just graduated from La Salle Catholic College Preparatory high school, plans to study journalism at the University of Oregon.

Joining Kar in the internship program are Sagarika Ramachandran, a Lincoln High School grad, and Maria Peña Cornejo, who just graduated from Parkrose High School.

Metro representatives say the summer internship program, with its focus on young writers of color, will help shine a light on the voices and perspectives that often are overlooked or under-represented in a predominantly white media landscape.

"I think this partnership program started with some shared goals between Metro and Pamplin, and wanting to make sure our coverage represented the diverse community in greater Portland," said Yuxing Zheng, a parks and nature communication specialist with Metro. "It's not just what stories get to be told, but who gets to tell those stories."

It's no secret that American newsrooms often look homogenized compared to the communities they report in, and data suggest it's not getting better.

In 2017, the American Society of News Editors announced that a newsroom diversity survey showed that minority journalists account for only 16.6% of newsroom employees in the U.S.

Zheng's colleague at Metro, Ambar Espinoza, says that's problematic for a few reasons.

"They don't reflect the people they're writing about and the people who live next door to them," Espinoza said. She notes a Pew Research Center report showing that across the country, newsrooms are less diverse than the U.S. workforce, overall, and says diversity was a huge impetus for this project, in an effort to "ensure the stories that we're hearing from people are diverse and inclusive and reflect the communities we're working in."

The inaugural internship project between Metro and Pamplin Media, which owns the Portland Tribune and approximately 25 weekly and monthly community newspapers, aims to not only "elevate and amplify" the voices of young people from historically underrepresented communities, but to expose these writers to working practices in journalism, with the hope of inspiring them to pursue the field.

While some have criticized the endeavor as "government-funded journalism," organizers say there were very few parameters put around coverage and topics, and Metro has no involvement in the editorial process.

That job will be left up to Samantha Bakall, a freelance journalist and coordinator of the internship project, and John Schrag, executive editor of the Portland Tribune.

"Entire communities are not really being covered, except fairly superficially," Schrag said, noting a lack of diversity in his own newsroom. He said the internship project offered a unique opportunity to "encourage a new generation of journalists, and get people who are still in touch with their hometown communities."

Kar, Ramachandran and Peña Cornejo will delve into stories rooted in everything from civic engagement to transportation and youth homelessness.

Meet the storytellers

Sagarika RamachandranSagarika Ramachandran, 18

Recently graduated from: Lincoln High School

College: American University, Washington, D.C.

Q: Why is journalism important and what motivated you to participate in this project?

A: "I've been interested in journalism for its ability to give a voice to people who don't have one. Journalism doesn't just expose the truth, but it can also share stories that impact change small or big. Because of the impact journalism can have — through articles, pictures, videos — I think it can educate people and share perspectives that are sometimes silenced or lack a stage to voice themselves.

Focus or lens this summer:

"This summer I've gotten to focus on the human aspect of different issues in the city. I got to share the human impact of the closure of food carts and how it affects business owners and families. I also learned more about how the climate justice movement can have detrimental effects on the disables community. It takes a different skill set to be on the sidelines, asking questions and simply sharing the truth without becoming too involved sometimes."

Pena CornejoMaria Peña Cornejo, 18

Recently graduated from: Parkrose High School

College: University of Oregon

Q: Why is journalism important and what motivated you to participate in this project?

A: "I applied to the internship because I wanted to experience what going into journalism as a career looks like. I think that journalism is important because it has the opportunity to share stories of marginalized and unrepresented groups of people. I'm doing so, journalism can act as a way to bridge gaps and highlight injustice. My community is often times portrayed in a negative light, so I think that journalism is a way to show the truth of the Latinx community."

Samantha KarSamantha Kar, 17

Recently graduated from: La Salle Prep

College: University of Oregon

Q: Why is journalism important and what motivated you to participate in this project?

A: "I decided to apply for the internship to gain experience outside of just a school and see if journalism really was something I wanted to pursue professionally. It's all about storytelling, and journalism allows you to explore so many topics and educate yourself. As someone who is particularly curious, I enjoy the ability to ask questions, seek answers and share what I find."

Focus or lens this summer: "As a Chinese American, I decided that I would focus on featuring ethnic minorities this summer, as I rarely see people like me in the media. Diversity in the media is overdue."

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