Discovering grassroots journalism at TCDP: Six interns, 50 stories


Three months. Six interns. More than fifty news articles.

That is what Twin Cities Daily Planet’s team of six has published this fall during their internships. While maintaining full-time student status, and part-time jobs, this team of six also committed to professionally and objectively covering any stories assigned, no matter how challenging.

Now, as their internships draw to an end, we wanted to offer you a closer look at each of our student writers.

Jessie Lieb, 19, has published nearly a dozen articles during her internship, often deciphering complicated government reports, as she did for her article about a HUD grant awarded to Met Council. Many of her articles she focused on the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, where she also resides. As a Cedar Riverside resident herself, Lieb valued learning about the issues other residents felt were important.

“I had my perspective as a student,” Lieb said. “But then, as part of the community, I really wanted what was best for everyone.”

One of her favorite articles was an interview with Hussein Samatar, director of the African Development Center, a program designed to assist new African immigrants living in Minneapolis.

“He is a very interesting man with a lot of good ideas,” Lieb said. “I love sitting down one on one with people and hearing their stories. My favorite part of the job is interviewing, so getting to do a feature interview of someone very interesting was really exciting for me.”

Currently in her second year at U of M, Lieb is studying anthropology, English and Spanish. She also has a strong commitment to community development and activism. Lieb hopes to continue.

“I definitely want to keep writing for the Daily Planet this year,” Lieb said. “I have learned  and experienced so many new things this year and I want to continue the new experiences.”

Andrea Richards, 21, an English major at U of M, chose a journalism internship because she knew the writing would be intensive. She doesn’t necessarily plan to pursue a journalism career after college. Yet, she believes her internship with the Planet was valuable, because it taught her the importance of being assertive.

“No one is going to take you or your article seriously if you’re not confident,” Richards said. “You have to be bold in what you’re writing and know that you are presenting the truth in the best possible way.”

During her internship, Richards was highly regarded by community leaders for providing a voice for the people and issues impacting the Frogtown community.

“There have been a few community leaders in Frogtown who have thanked and complimented me for my work which was really nice,” Richards said. “People like Boa Lee, Tait Danielson Castillo and city councilman Melvin Carter III. Most of the comments were about the Promise Neighborhood grant.”

Richards’ article about the Promise Neighborhood was one she is particularly proud of because she recognizes the $500,000 federal grant awarded to Saint Paul has the potential to revitalize the Frogtown/Summit-University communities.

“That’s what’s exciting to me about the story is the future of Saint Paul,” Richards said. “Even if I don’t report on its progress anymore, I’m still excited about the Promise Neighborhood.”

To date, Richards has had twelve articles published.

Both Lieb and Richards were interns as part of the semester-long HECUA program. HECUA is the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs, an organization of 18 liberal arts colleges, universities and associations dedicated to education for social justice.

A.J. (Amanda)MacDonald, 22, currently had nine articles published thus far during her internship. When her first article was published, MacDonald remembers being overwhelmed with a sense of pride.

“Seeing something I worked on published drove my desire to keep writing,” MacDonald said. “It made me want to see what else I could do, to test my potential.”

She views this experience as a key component to a future journalism career and believes the “real-world experience” coupled with classroom instruction elevated her knowledge base.

“This internship opened my eyes to so many different views of what it means to be a journalist,” MacDonald said. “The people at the Daily Planet are such a mix of ages, backgrounds and interests; but all are there because they are so dedicated to journalism and passionate about writing.”

MacDonald expects to graduate in May 2011with a degree in Journalism. Although her post-graduation plans are still being formulated, MacDonald is confident she has the foundation needed to be a successful journalist.

“I am so interested in the principles journalism is rooted in and journalism’s role in society, MacDonald said. “To know I can be a part of this is so rewarding and motivating.”

Yeoryia Christoforides, 21, published two articles and is currently investigating a story about Xcel Energy high-voltage powerlines near the Midtown Greenway. Her internship has taught her that honest, hard-working journalists willing to do some legwork are still appreciated by the public. When her first story was published, she remembers being filled with a sense of pride.

“I felt like studying journalism wasn’t a pipe-dream for the first time,” she said. “Like I could actually do this thing that everybody told me was corrupted, biased, worthless and had no future.”

One of the many things Christoforides will take with her from this experience is the vital role citizen journalists play in today’s rapidly changing media world. She believes TC Daily Planet utilizes citizen journalists to reach people who are sometimes overlooked by the larger media outlets.

“TCDP really does focus on grassroots journalism,” she said. “It strives to provide thorough perspectives that impact the Twin Cities.”

Christoforides is in her third year at University of MN, majoring in Journalism and French. She doesn’t know as of yet what her future holds, but hopes to have a career in journalism.

“I was recently told by an editor that it’s better not to have plans in this field, and to just go where the stories are,” Christoforides said. “So, my future plan is to find good stories.”

Both MacDonald and Christoforides were assigned their internships as part of the University of Minnesota’s Walter H Brovald and John Cameron Sim Community Newspaper Practicum.

Gramer                                 Peifer

Eliana Gramer, 22, and Larissa Peifer, 21, exchange students from Germany participated in a partner internship sponsored by Hamline University’s International Journalism program. Together, they have had seven articles published and are working with several others. The concept of collaborating with another reporter might intimidate some writers, but both Gramer and Peifer felt it offered more opportunities for them.

“We think today working at a journalism department or at a media organization requires teamwork since many journalists have to work on the same story,” Gramer said. “Learning to concentrate on one article helped to adjust to this new system a lot.”

Gramer and Peifer have interned at other media institutions and had articles published while in Germany. However, at the Daily Planet, they noticed they were entrusted with more writing opportunities than in the past.

“Mary [Turck] gave us the chance right away to start writing,” Larissa said. “You don’t usually get those big stories, here we did. We were given more independence here.”

One big story they covered was about the Dream Act currently before the U.S. Congress and how it would impact local undocumented students. Researching this article was challenging because some people refused to be interviewed for fear of repercussions. Yet, in the end, it proved to be the one article that affected them the most.

“We needed to be patient and careful of what we wrote since anonymity was very important,” Gramer said. “It was touching to listen to the stories of students, how they came here and how they feel being here.”

Both Gramer and Peifer will return to Germany in January.

The Planet staff appreciates the many long hours these six interns invested and wish them all much success in their futures.