MUJW inspires legacy of passion for journalism

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Overton High School/Memphis, Tenn.
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Soo Ji Lee receives guidance from her writing coach, Kate Carlisle of the Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News, during MUJW 2011.
Photo by Christopher Parks/MUJW

Soo Ji Lee receives guidance from her writing coach, Kate Carlisle of the Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News, during MUJW 2011.

COLUMBIA — Just 8 years old when the World Trade Center collapsed,

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Sarah Sadler remembers little of Sept. 11, 2001.

The unfolding attack was not mentioned during the school day, Sadler said. When her mom picked her up that afternoon, “All I remember was my mother saying, ‘Something bad happened today.’”

Ten years later, Sadler and 18 other students from around the country asked others to share their memories in an effort to understand 9/11’s impact on Columbia.

MUJW workshop student Christina Gardner interviews a story subject via phone in a corridor of Lee Hills Hall.
Photo by Christopher Parks/MUJW

MUJW workshop student Christina Gardner interviews a story subject via phone in a corridor of Lee Hills Hall.

As participants in the 10-day Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop, the students received a taste of a journalist’s life, reporting, writing stories and producing video for the Urban Pioneer website.

In its 41st year at MU, the workshop is funded by the Dow Jones News Fund.

The program was created to recruit young African-Americans into the field of journalism and expanded as time passed. Known as the AHANA (African-American, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans) workshop between 1990 and 2006, its current name reflects openness to all races and ethnicities.

“The (purpose of) the workshop was to get diverse students to mirror the diversity in the community,” said Anna Romero, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and director of MUJW.skype

The workshop has made a name for itself by producing successful journalists. Several have returned repeatedly to mentor other future reporters.

Russ Mitchell, news anchor and national correspondent for “CBS Evening News,” was a participant in the workshop in 1977. Introduced to the workshop by his high school journalism teacher, he has remained attached to the program in the 34 years since.

Mitchell has returned to talk to students in the workshop on and off since 1985. This year he remained in New York City for work but spoke to students using Skype, an online video chat service.

In a separate telephone interview, his passion for journalism was almost tangible. As for why he enjoys reporting, he said, “I enjoy interviewing and bringing information to people. And you generally know everything first.”

Teresa Taylor-Williams, another MUJW alumna and a writing coach at this year’s workshop, credited the workshop with sparking

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her interest in journalism.

Taylor-Williams said she came from a predominantly white high school and didn’t have mentors of color.

“Before, I felt like a paper bag was over

my head, and when I came here, the bag was ripped off,” she said. “Right after I finished the workshop I ran to my local paper and asked for a job writing for the paper.”

She wasn’t out of high school yet, but her passion for writing convinced them to give her a job writing obituaries, she said.

Now working as a freelance journalist while finishing her master’s degree in communications, Taylor-Williams hopes to provide similar inspiration to a new generation.

“When I was a part of the program there were only students of color at the workshop, but I believe the diversity we have now is beneficial to the program,” she said. The hands-on approach is another strength. “We’re kind of throwing you in the water and helping you learn how to swim.”

Christina Gardner, a 2011 participant, appreciated the experience.

“It’s a lot of hard work but it gives you a picture of what journalism really is — the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said.