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Hofstra Institute helps shape young journalists

Summer program promotes newsroom diversity


Eight Nassau County high school students and two 2016 graduates recently invested two weeks of their summer vacations learning to craft news leads, shoot photos, edit videos and build their own WordPress blogs at Hofstra University’s High School Summer Journalism Institute.

The program, held at Hofstra’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication in Hempstead from July 5 to 15, introduced students from diverse backgrounds to the world of journalism. The New York Press Association funded the project.

Participants came from Elmont Memorial, Hempstead and Island Trees high schools. Hofstra Professors Peter Goodman, of Syosset, and Scott Brinton, of Merrick, who is the Heralds’ senior editor for enterprise reporting, led the effort. Goodman and Brinton shared their journalistic experiences with the students, taught them how to write news stories, with photos and videos, and asked them to consider careers in the media field.

In the end, participants said they learned a great deal about producing a news story. “You have to be straightforward — all facts,” said Fatima Bhutta, 16, an Elmont Memorial junior.

“You don’t want to over-think when you’re writing because I feel like that’s when you mess up,” she noted. “You just want to give the straight facts.”

Students faced daily challenges, with deadlines to be met on the news stories that they wrote. “One of the main things that I learned here is that you have to get things done,” said Amoy Brown, 18, a recent Hempstead High graduate.

“They threw us in the deep end to see if you sink or swim, and most of us did swim,” she added.

Rex Asabor, 16, an Elmont Memorial senior, said he learned that setting up interviews can be tough. He wrote a story on diversity in the Sewanhaka Central School District. “I wanted to interview the superintendent or people who work in central administration, but they were all busy,” Asabor said. “I worked around that by doing more research on statistics from databases on the Internet and interviewing students from different schools in the district.”

Students were aided by three mentors from Hofstra’s Graduate Journalism Program, including Danielle Agoglia, Courtney McGee and this reporter.

Guest speakers included Hofstra Professor Mario Gonzalez, Nassau County Legislator Laura Curran, Hofstra Professor and Librarian AnnMarie Boyle, WordPress master Doug Morrow, Herald Community Newspapers reporter Stephany Reyes, Newsday reporter Keith Herbert and Herald reporter Daine Taylor.

Rodney Legrand, 15, an Elmont Memorial junior, said that he was amazed by Gonzalez’s career. “It was very intriguing to me,” Legrand said. “I found his life very interesting that he went through many different jobs and experiences, ended up as a teacher, and he loved everything that he did.”

Participants also visited The New York Times. Associate Editor Richard Jones led a nearly two-hour tour of what many consider to be among the world’s finest print publications.

“Going to The New York Times was one of the highlights because the building was beautiful,” Asabor said. “I learned a lot about the field of journalism hands on.”

“I was literally obsessed and I was so excited,” Brown said. “That is one of my ultimate goals –– to one day be able to write for The New York Times. It just made me even more excited to actually say, ‘This is where I want to be in 10 to 15 years.’ I can’t wait.”

Brown will study journalism at the State University of New York at Albany this fall. The institute, she said, “seemed like a perfect fit right before I go off to college and actually start to do this for the next four years.”

Other students said the program changed their views on journalism. “For me, I hated listening to the news,” Bhutta admitted. “But now I want to know what’s going on. I want to dig deeper and look at the bigger news. I’m definitely going to blog a lot about issues in the community, and I will be writing a lot of news articles too.”

“The skills I learned, you can use them every day,” Legrand said, “and this program definitely drew my interest for writing in college. It pulled me more towards the media and journalistic side. I wasn’t really thinking about that as a career, but this program showed me a little bit more about the details of the job.”

Asabor said that he doesn’t plan to pursue a career in journalism, but he will still use the skills that he learned in “extracurriculars and writing in general for school courses and assignments.”

All of the students said they made new friends through the program. “We all just fell into it,” Bhutta said. “It’s like I’ve known them forever.”