Dire predictions about the future of American journalism are common these days, but not so much at William & Mary, as student interest in the field flourishes amid a renaissance of Charles Center programs fostering the next generation of reporters.
In addition to a longstanding partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which cosponsors the annual Sharp Journalism Seminar, the Charles Center continues to collaborate across campus to expand its journalism offerings to meet surging student demand. Most prominent is the Grimsley Fellowship in Journalism, which challenges aspiring journalists to design a 10-week summer internship with a media organization of their choosing.
This past summer, Phebe Fahmy ’26 became the first to receive the J. Edward and Ann N. Grimsley Fellowship in Journalism, which provided a $4,000 stipend to support her work with the Falls Church News-Press, a vibrant online newspaper serving the Falls Church, Virginia, community. Through her experience, Fahmy wrote and edited articles, as well as contributed to the organization’s social media presence. She worked with two other interns at the organization throughout the summer.
“One thing about a journalist that I didn’t realize beforehand is that your day-to-day schedule is heavily dependent on who you’re interviewing and what their schedule looks like,” Fahmy said. “I think learning and understanding that is the biggest thing I took away from this experience.”
Skills for a variety of fields
Fahmy mentioned that though she is not necessarily interested in working in journalism, she entered the internship in order to improve her writing skills overall.
“I think writing is so important in whatever field you go into,” Fahmy said. “I’m looking to declare a major in the sciences, but despite that, I knew I wanted to be a good writer.”
Fahmy’s favorite interviews and pieces included the opportunity to speak with the Falls Church district governor about the city’s demographics and reporting on the opening of the Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, D.C.
Fahmy was mentored by Falls Church News-Press News Editor Kylee Toland, a recent graduate of James Madison University and a staff writer for Northern Virginia Magazine. Toland reflected on the importance of media internships for the survival of both digital and print journalism.
“It almost feels like print journalism is slowly fading because there isn’t a lot of energy put into it or a lot of young eagerness to go into it,” Toland said. Fahmy and the other interns, Toland added, “really proved to us that, yes, young minds are wanting to contribute to journalism, and specifically print journalism. They are coming up with a wide range of ideas to get more exposure for print journalism, such as social media.”
Toland also emphasized various mixed-media opportunities and skills interns honed throughout the summer, including photography and writing.
“They also learned how to edit, sometimes using Adobe InDesign to help create pages, or go out and take photos if we needed a photo for our paper,” Toland said. Reporters, especially for a small media outlet, Toland emphasized, must be “quick on their feet.”
Toland hopes to work with more interns in the future, expressing that this was her first mentorship role in the field of journalism.
“It really helped me get more experience with my leadership skills,” Toland said. “Taking on that mentor, leader role can be a little intimidating. But Phebe and the two other interns were always very, very eager to learn. They helped me really focus on my writing as well. We all learned from each other.”
Fahmy recommended the fellowship opportunity for anyone interested in the communications sector, as well as those interested in improving their writing skills.
“Without a doubt, 100%, having a journalism experience or an internship similar to the field that you want to go into is such a necessity,” Fahmy said. “I was expecting to be the only intern, and we ended up with three interns at this really, really small newspaper publication, which I think speaks volumes about the journalism field in general.”
Toland mentioned that journalism internships can span a wide range of topics, not just traditionally advertised investigative pieces. She believes that every story can make a difference, regardless of the content or hard-hitting nature of the piece.
“Doing stories on education, or human-interest stories, still make an impact,” Toland said. “Any type of writing from the start is good. And you can just build yourself up the more and more you write.”
Fahmy believes that an internship experience can provide a great firsthand experience into potential career paths and suggested that even hesitant students pursue this opportunity.
“I would say that if you’re doubting yourself, just do it,” Fahmy said. “Do it and you won’t regret it.”
Resurgence of interest
Charles Center Director Elizabeth Harbron sees the resurgence of interest in journalism on campus as the result of a renewed sense of urgency about the need for fact-based reporting in a democracy, as well as the challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies.
“American democracy doesn’t exist without a free and vibrant press,” Harbron said. “As our society evolves, so does the field of journalism. We seek to support our students who aim to practice the craft, whether in traditional print media or new, experimental forms.”
In addition to the Grimsley Fellowship in Journalism, the Charles Center is offering new Journalism & Democracy Fellowships, which provide students additional opportunities to self-design internships in print media, digital media, radio, television, or photojournalism. Students who apply for a journalism internship in summer 2024 automatically will be considered for either fellowship.
The Charles Center also offers the Sizemore Fellowship for Graduate Study in Journalism to seniors who are pursuing graduate studies in journalism immediately after graduation. Up to $35,000 in Sizemore Fellowships will be awarded in spring 2024.
Looking forward, Harbron hopes to pursue campus partnerships to create residency programs that would expand undergraduate course offerings in journalism and public writing by tapping the nation’s most talented practitioners in the field as instructors.
“Student interest is driving the renaissance in journalism offerings on campus,” Harbron said. “We’re thrilled to be able to steward donor funds and work with faculty and staff to meet and further cultivate that interest.”
Applications for summer 2024 journalism fellowships will be available on the Charles Center website Nov. 1 and are due by Dec. 1, 2023.