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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: High school journalists continue to impress

By Laura Johnston
July 22, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Workshop honors longtime organizer after 39 years

Dear Reader,

It seems that nearly every day there's a new report about the decline of the journalism industry, a story about staff layoffs or word of a buyout. Those stories are hard for me to hear because I love this profession so much, and because it means that friends and colleagues are suffering, in addition to you, the news consumers.

In the past week I've been lucky to see a glimpse of journalism's future, and it looks bright. Twenty high school students from across the country have been working at the Columbia Missourian and KOMU as part of the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop. Each student is paired with a professional mentor during the week.

These students have taken on the topic of health. They have been reporting stories about people who live with chronic conditions and no health insurance, talking to parents about child obesity and healthy eating, spending time on the MKT talking to joggers and asking people what they know about the Affordable Care Act.

The students' work is showcased on our website and at the Urban Pioneer website. And good work it is. I hope you'll take a look at it. We aimed to provide information about the Affordable Care Act and how it affects your life, as well as tips on wellness and medicine.

Through their reporting, they've been learning about the topic and about journalism. I asked the students to recount a few of the lessons they've learned during the 8-day workshop:

"I have a better respect for reporters and journalists. I thought I knew about reporting because I did it in high school, but that's garbage compared to what I've learned and done here," said Kylee May from Hondo, Texas.

"I learned a lot about interviewing," said Zillian "Zee" Krstic from New York, as he recounted an adventure he and his editor had while working on a story. "But you just get over it and need to be professional and conduct the interview."

Students said they now know how challenging it is to find sources, talk to people they don't know and deal with unexpected surprises in reporting. Good lessons they're likely to recall years from now, I suspect.

Behind the scenes have been about 15 faculty editors, numerous student staff and the one woman who has been involved with the workshop for almost as long it has existed.

Since 1968, Doris Barnhart has been working with high school journalism programs at the Missouri School of Journalism. She's been part of the workshop for 39 of its 42 years and has recently announced her retirement.

Those of us affiliated with the workshop will miss Barnhart's presence. The students and faculty editors who participate in future years are sure to hear stories about her energetic personality and decades of involvement. She has been the workshop "mom" to more than 900 students over the years.

With a mentor like Barnhart to nudge them along and the lessons they've learned at the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop, I have no doubt that these students will continue to push journalism forward and seek better information for tomorrow's news consumers.

Laura Johnston is senior news editor at the Columbia Missourian and has served as MUJW's managing editor for two years.