As a junior high school student, Katie Charland wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, giving her a sense of empowerment and piquing her interest in journalism.
“I really felt that my voice was heard,” said Charland, who holds a journalism degree from Arizona State University and is director of operations at Gangplank in Chandler. “I’d really like for kids to have that same feeling.”
As a result, Charland has started the Gangplank Jr. Journalism Program, a nine-week study for children designed to foster their curiosity and creativity. It begins on July 9 at Gangplank, 260 S. Arizona Ave.
During the course of the program — each Saturday session runs for two hours — children will learn the importance of the First Amendment and study several elements of journalism, from news, sports and feature writing to photojournalism and podcasting. The students’ work will be presented on a dedicated website.
The genesis of the journalism program, Charland said, came from her experience with Teach For America, where corps members are assigned to classrooms in low-income communities. Charland worked at a Texas middle school and started a newspaper with her students.
“I really enjoyed it, so I wanted to start something here in a similar vein,” Charland said. “Nowadays, kids are writing blogs anyway, starting really young. I wanted them to learn how to get the facts and tell both sides of the story and other journalistic principles.”
Gangplank is a nonprofit group that offers free space for technology professionals to come together, share ideas and develop products and business models.
Charland said that about six kids, ages 7 to 15, have expressed interest in participating. There is no registration fee, and instructors and guest speakers — a local podcaster and photographers have committed, and Charland hopes to recruit other journalists — volunteer their services.
“We don’t have a sign-up process right now,” Charland said. “I want to see how many kids show up the first time. If we have an overload of kids, we’ll adjust.”
When Charland told others that she wanted to found a junior journalism program, a part of her expected this response: Are you nuts?
The financial woes of American newspapers in recent years has been well documented. Thousands of jobs have been lost, with the Phoenix market hit especially hard.
The East Valley Tribune has transitioned from a daily paper to a thrice-weekly publication, shedding hundreds of staff members in the process. The Arizona Republic has undergone multiple rounds of layoffs, most recently in June, when the paper’s parent company, Gannett, laid off 700 workers nationwide.
There are certainly more secure professions to steer children to, but Charland — who said she continued pursuing a journalism degree “even after it was starting to not become a desired profession” — feels that journalism training remains valuable because it can be utilized in other writing arenas.
“Journalists tend to be multitaskers who can fit into just about any field,” Charland said. “I’m surprised I’ve gotten so much support for the program, because I was expecting raised eyebrows. A lot of people see it as, ‘Maybe my child won’t work for a newspaper, but this will help him be a creative writer or a content producer for a website.’ ”
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