Florida is a popular summer spot for many travelers because of the sunny beaches and tourist attractions such as Disneyworld and Universal Studios. But from July 27 to Aug. 1, 42 high schoolers made the trip to Coral Gables, Fla., to participate in the Asian American Journalists Association’s seventh annual J Camp at the University of Miami.
The thick heat, not to mention the occasional thunderstorm, was no deterrent to these aspiring journalists as they gutted it out for six days. Young writers representing 24 states gathered for this program, which exposed them to the world of professional journalism with hands-on experience, a staff well versed in the profession and a fantastic slate of guest speakers.
The students were split into six breakout groups, each specializing in a different medium. Two focused on print journalism, two on broadcast, one on photojournalism and the final group on online media, a subject area new to the program. Throughout the course of the camp, these breakout groups met and worked on their areas on concentration.
Faculty members experienced in their field led the breakout groups. The print teams were led by Mark Angeles, Union County bureau chief of the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., and Josh du Lac, pop music critic for the Washington Post. Cari Hernandez, executive producer at NBC 6 in Miami, and Angie Lau, an investigative consumer reporter with WEWS in Cleveland, took charge of the broadcast journalism groups. Kyndell Harkness, a photographer at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, ran the photography group, and Chris Macias, the Sacramento Bee’s pop music critic, handled the online group. Long-standing director Neal Justin of the Star Tribune reprised his role this year along with co-director Clea Benson, a senior writer for CQ Weekly. Nao Vang and Stacy Umezu, the tireless coordinators who ran J Camp from behind the scenes, rounded out the faculty.
This staff was an invaluable resource to the students, monitoring them not just during breakout sessions but also outside the newsrooms as they lived in the same dorms as the teenagers. They helped these kids learn how to write like professional journalists and how to conduct themselves as well.
The input of the faculty was augmented by the guest speakers who came. First up, as has been the custom since the first J Camp, was Joie Chen, formerly of CNN and currently with CBS News, who set the tone for this multicultural journalism program by talking about diversity in the newsroom. She did not simply lecture but also raised questions about the role of race, gender and identity as a whole, making the students think and listen actively. A strong lineup followed Chen, including Pierre Thomas of ABC News, Richard Lui of CNN Headline News and Teri Agins, fashion correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.
Perhaps more amazing than the wealth of knowledge the students were able to gain from these journalists was the fact that the entire program was presented to them cost-free, thanks to the numerous sponsors that support and believe in the students and the program that AAJA puts on. This confidence reflects the belief of directors Justin and Benson, who wrote in their introductory statement, “If these young people choose to follow us in this great adventure, we’ll be in very, very good hands.”