Journalism Division Launches New Dallas Morning News Fellowship Program
Students gain top-five media market experience; the News gains broader coverage in the Dallas region
For several years, journalism students at SMU Meadows School of the Arts have had the fortune of interning at The Dallas Morning News, Dallas’s leading daily newspaper. Gaining experience at the top-five media market paper has proven invaluable to the students, many of whom go on to careers in print, digital and broadcast news and entertainment, as well as positions in corporate communication and public affairs (see sidebar).
In recent years, as the newspaper industry wrestles with the growing pains of the digital age, the number of internships at the award-winning, regional Morning News has shrunk from four or five positions a year to just one. Knowing how valuable the internships are to both the students and the News, Tony Pederson, Belo Foundation Endowed Distinguished Chair in Journalism at Meadows, came up with a plan to continue offering students an opportunity to report for a top regional newspaper. Over the spring and summer months of 2019, Pederson crafted a new program with Dallas Morning News Editor Mike Wilson and Assistant Managing Editor for Journalism Initiatives Tom Huang, and Meadows journalism professor Lauren Smart. Their goal is twofold: Open the News door wider to Meadows journalism students, and help the News to better serve the Dallas region.
Thanks to a generous grant funded by Jennifer Burr Altabef, chair of the Meadows Executive Board and journalism and law alumna (’78, ’81), four students are now working part-time at The Dallas Morning News as inaugural fellows of the new Division of Journalism/Dallas Morning News Fellowships program. Each is assigned to work in a different section of the paper.
Victoria Valdez (’20) works as a reporter for the Business section; Mary Grace Metheny (’20), Food; Hannah Costley (’20), Education; and Isabel Arcellana (’19), Arts & Life. All four are assigned to cover stories in the fast-growing suburb of Frisco, located 27 miles north of Dallas, an area the News wants to cover more thoroughly.
“We are learning to pitch stories, write articles that live up to DMN standards, and work as professional journalists in the real world,” said Arcellana, a double major in journalism and fashion media, with a minor in graphic design. “It’s been amazing to work in the newsroom with the incredible News editors, and to be surrounded by such great journalists. I always hoped I’d someday write for them.”
To help the fellows prepare for their assignments, Professor Smart traveled with them to Frisco at the beginning of their semester-long fellowship to explore the city. “We spent a full day touring the sites,” said Smart. “One student saw the Star—the 91-acre campus of the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters—where we checked out the Star’s flea market, restaurant and football facilities. For the Education reporter, we drove by all the high schools so she could see them and have reference points. We wanted them to be familiar with the town, and they will be going to Frisco a couple of times a semester. But for the most part they’re doing their reporting from the Morning News offices in downtown Dallas.”
As they develop their Frisco beats, says Smart, the students like that they can suggest stories that strike their fancy. “They get a chance to prove themselves and pitch their ideas to their editors,” Smart says. “Some have covered concerts; they’re getting to do some really cool assignments, Instagram takeovers and more, all in a top-five media market.”
While the students benefit from seeing first-hand how a professional news operation works, they also are getting a clear-eyed view of the seismic shifts in the industry.
“The fellows are seeing the industry as it exists now – in a state of transformation – and are on the front of the wave leading to the next new normal,” says Smart. “Even in the midst of this change, the same skill sets are still needed: writing, shaping the story, knowing how to work across platforms – print, broadcast and digital.”
Pederson adds that technology is definitively changing the way the public consumes information. “For example,” he says, “most Gen Z students don’t sit down and read a newspaper, and they’re never going to. They don’t even go to a particular website of a news organization. Now, they get information in an aggregated form: They’ll subscribe to a list of top stories, which might be local, might be sports. Students—really anyone now—can curate exactly what they want to receive.”
In these times of rapid change, teaching adaptability is important, according to Pederson. “Our students get serious instruction in all social media and use of web metrics,” he says. “The internet will continue to evolve and change how news is delivered. Being able to adapt to new delivery techniques and even new highly mobile platforms will be critical to understanding news and being a competent journalist in the future.”
On top of strong journalism skills and adaptability, says Pederson, the Meadows School emphasizes community involvement whenever possible.
“We’ve had a long relationship with the News, and the News is important to our community,” says Pederson. “We are happy to help each other out, and in doing so, helping the Dallas region keep up with our fast-changing world.”
Read more about the Division of Journalism at SMU Meadows; see examples of student work on The Daily Update news program, Press Pass sports show, SMU Look fashion magazine and television show and more.