Journalism will never die: A young journalist’s vision and the history of SFNS, the program that trained her

By Silvia Rodriguez

Barbara Corbellini Duarte in Washington, D.C.  Photo by Silvia Rodriguez

By Barbara Corbellini Duarte 

South Florida News Service

Newspapers are folding, bloggers often take over the news and most journalists make little money. Yet, every year thousands of students insist to enroll in J-Schools.

“But why? I think you would be a great lawyer,” I heard from almost every person in my family when I enrolled.

Why?

I want to make a difference, and so do most students I’ve met through my two years at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University.

The horror stories didn’t scare me.  Going out to work on my first story for a newspaper did.

I had just joined this program at school called the South Florida News Service, where students write stories for major papers in South Florida.

It didn’t feel like a class.  In the first two weeks of the semester, we had to come up with a story idea and then bring a news budget line.

Coming up with the ideas wasn’t a problem.  I had two.  One was about people paddleboarding at night with cool neon lights on their boards.  The second was about a woman with a rare type of cancer.  I wanted a story with more depth, so I gave the paddleboarding article to a classmate and decided to report on the cancer story.

Bad decision.

Less than a month after the beginning of classes, my cancer story was killed, and the paddleboarding piece made it to the pages of the Sun-Sentinel and even the Chicago Tribune.

Yes, it was frustrating.  But I didn’t give up.

Next, I interviewed a Syrian girl living in Miami while her country was in civil war.  Somehow, this one story of a student obsessed with social media trying to send news to her family in her hometown had much more impact on me than the hundreds of other stories I read enumerating deaths in Syria.

I strongly believed Miami would understand this conflict better through this one personal story.  And it did.

On the last week of class, it published on the front page of Issues&Ideas, the opinion section of the Sunday Miami Herald.

The feeling of reading my words printed in South Florida’s premier paper was indescribable.

Then, I received an email from a man who wanted to help the girl find a job.

“My story had an impact,” I thought. “It mattered.”

It was then that I felt like a real journalist for the first time, and I knew it had me for life.

I owed that to the SFNS.

The program started four years ago at a time when many were hopeless about the future of journalism.  Indeed, they had good reasons.

During the 2008 recession, many newspapers lost circulation and almost half of their newsroom staff — one of the reasons for the horror stories.

The cuts in the newsrooms across the country also meant a risk to journalism schools, including the J-school at FIU, which was threatened to close.

That’s when Allan Richards, associate dean of the journalism school, and Teresa Ponte, chair of the journalism department, started discussing a partnership with three South Florida newspapers:  The Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

SFNS launched in the spring 2009 as a wire service with the help of the three local papers and McCormick Foundation.

“What made it so unusual as a pioneering program was that the three newspapers would share student’s generated copy,” Richards said. “They were fiercely competitive to each other, and now, all of a sudden, you have this journalism school giving this content that they would all share.”

As the program gave a hand to the newspapers, it also saved the journalism school.

“There was a lot of criticism, but we decided that we would go ahead with the changing time,” said Ponte.  “We could not turn back the time, so we would give an opportunity to students.”

For more SFNS stories and commentaries, visit SFNSonline.com.

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Categories: South Florida News Service

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