In a year somewhat short on bright spots, two stood out for me: Summer interns Shauna Muckle and Cate Bikales.
Although they didn't know it, these high school students were almost victims of COVID-19.
When the virus shut down local restaurants, theaters and annual events this spring, it also shut off a lot of Pamplin Media Group's advertising revenue. Like so many businesses, we had to make some painful layoffs and reduce the hours of our remaining employees. Also on the cutting block was Amplify, our fledging internship program, which teams Portland Tribune journalists with underprivileged high school students.
Thankfully, we managed to hang on to this important program, and everyone's glad we did.
At a time when the coronavirus has closed many doors to young journalists, we'd like to open some. And, since not all those ad dollars have come back yet, we're having to get creative. This fall, we teamed up with Facebook and a national journalism advocacy group on a fundraising campaign. Our goal is to raise $4,700 in the next week so we can turn Amplify into a year-round opportunity and start a bilingual podcast focusing on education.
Like our internship program, our new bilingual podcast will help tell the stories of students often overlooked. We want to cover COVID-19's impact on education, particularly among Latino communities. Oregon's Spanish speakers are often not prioritized in the media. This podcast will help bridge that gap and allow us to better tell stories that directly affect this population.
Help us amplify student voices
Shauna, a 2020 graduate of Jesuit High, is now a freshman at Washington and Lee University in Virginia and has already written several articles for The Ring-tum Phi, the campus paper. Cate is back at Lincoln High, using her new skills in her role as an editor for the mighty Cardinal Times.
"As an aspiring journalist, the internship gave me a glimpse into what it is like working for a professional newspaper," Cate told us before she left. "And I will definitely take the skills that I learned through this opportunity and apply them to other aspects of my life."
We launched Amplify with financial support from Metro, the Portland-area regional government, to help address a problem facing many media outlets: our newsrooms don't reflect the diversity of the communities we cover.
That first summer we hired our inaugural class, a talented trio of recent high school graduates: Maria Peña Cornejo, of Parkrose High School; Sagarika Ramachandran from Lincoln High and Samantha Kar of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.
Their energy was inspiring and under the guidance of editor Samatha Bakall, these bright young women found stories we would have missed — like the nascent revival of Portland's Chinatown — and brought their unique perspectives to a variety of timely topics ranging from homeless high school students to displaced food cart owners.
We were just beginning the outreach for our 2020 interns when the pandemic hit. Metro, which relies on revenue from several regional events destinations, was looking at monthly losses nearing $7 million. A pledge of support for Amplify, understandably, was put on hold.
Thankfully, we understand that this program is about more than writing a few stories between June and September. It is a small, but powerful way to amplify the voices and perspectives that often are overlooked or under-represented in a predominantly white media landscape.
We pushed on, alone, with a scaled-back program and, in June, welcomed Shauna and Cate.
Between them, they authored nearly 20 articles this summer and, once again, showed the value in bringing fresh perspectives to our journalism, tackling topics as diverse as the pros and cons of biodegradable graduation gowns to the COVID protocols at local e-scooter companies.
Shauna jumped into our election coverage with extensive profiles of several young candidates of color vying for the statehouse and surveyed how suburbs responded to calls for "defunding the police." Cate, in turn, added to our Black Lives Matter coverage by interviewing some young artists involved with the Portland protests.
Help us amplify student voices
"Working with the Portland Tribune this past summer was an amazing experience," Cate said. "I learned the best ways to conduct an interview, what a professional news meeting is really like, a little bit about data journalism, and so much more."
Even before COVID-19, our industry faced myriad challenges — from how we fund journalism to how we better cover emerging communities. Our response to those challenges cannot succeed if we don't include the perspectives of people currently underrepresented in our newsrooms.
Our podcast and internship program are both an effort to boost those voices.
If you believe community journalism and should reflect all communities in Oregon, please join our efforts.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.