Two Dallas institutions have joined forces to do the seemingly impossible: get teenagers involved in newspapers and libraries.
The Dallas Morning News and Dallas Public Library are launching a program that will turn high school students into local journalists, trained in researching, reporting, and producing their own stories. The program, “Storytellers Without Borders,” is funded by a $150,000 grant from the Knight Foundation through its News Challenge, which supports “the best breakthrough ideas in news and information.”
The 60 Dallas students admitted into Storytellers Without Borders will learn the ins and outs of digital, multimedia news from Morning News journalists, and research practices from librarians. Broken into teams, the students will conduct interviews and research on a topic of their choosing, with help from a journalist mentor. At the end of the first eight-week session — the program is funded for three — their work, which could include stories, photos, and video, will be published online on a microsite hosted by the paper. The results will then be shared at the next Festival of Ideas, where the idea for Storytellers Without Borders was broadly conceived this year.
The students may not become the next generation of newspaper reporters and librarians, but picking up a little media literacy goes a long way, particularly when many Americans struggle to judge the authenticity of online news — to tell the difference between sponsored content and other articles, to make a distinction between a paper’s news and editorial departments, to understand why a “nytimes.com” URL might be more trustworthy than the Facebook link leading to “usrealpatriotnews.co.info.”
Lauren Smart, an adjunct professor at SMU and arts journalist managing the program, says Storytellers Without Borders can help young people engage with the community they live in, exploring neighborhoods and topics they wouldn’t otherwise encounter, interviewing people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. It will also introduce students, very directly, to operations at the Morning News and the city’s public library system.
“If you understand how it works, maybe you’ll read the newspaper, and know the library is a place you can spend time,” Smart says.
It should also prove a learning experience for the paper and the library, each trying to stay relevant in a world that often feels like it’s leaving them behind. Tom Huang, the Morning News’ Sunday and enterprise editor involved with Storytellers Without Borders, talked to the Nieman Journalism Lab about the identity crisis facing city public libraries:
“Are they simply repositories for physical books or is there something more? Having a city news organization partner with a library can help the library figure out what that identity is and really promote it and make it gain even higher visibility in different communities. I think that ultimately helps the news organization because potentially you get more people interested in reading.”
It remains to be seen whether mobile-friendly website redesigns or massive digital library databases will get more people interested in reading. Getting young people involved in their community through two of its most important institutions, though, is certainly a start.
How newspapers and libraries evolve will be determined by a generation now growing up on the internet. Let’s hope they’re making informed decisions.
Students can go here to apply for Storytellers Without Borders. The deadline to apply is Jan. 21, and the first eight-week session kicks off Feb. 20, with weekly meetings scheduled at one of three Dallas Public Library branches. Applicants need to be students attending a Dallas high school.