“You are the future of our profession.”
This is quite possibly the most common phrase college students hear on graduation day. It’s also true. And the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation is working to help prepare student journalists for that future.
The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation supports student journalism by funding various internships, scholarships, publications and grants that help students learn their craft and, at the same time, survive campus life, said Betsy Ashton, vice president of the Foundation.
“This clearly fits in with the Foundation’s mission of promoting excellence and ethics in journalism and serving the professional needs of working journalists and students pursuing careers in the field,” she said.
The Foundation supports collegiate journalism through both ongoing programs and individual funding grants.
“Certainly students are the future of whatever journalism is and whatever it will be in the future,” said Georgiana Vines, co-chairwoman of the Foundation’s grants and awards committee. “Because (SPJ’s) membership is open to students, obviously we want them to take advantage of the programs we have.”
These programs include the development sessions put on annually at the SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference. Some of the student-oriented programs this year are “Covering Campus Crime” and “What You Need to Know About Student Press Freedom.”
They also include ongoing internships, such as the Ward Neff Internship, a one-year fellowship available to graduate journalism students.
“It’s a way to step out into the world of journalism before I leave school,” said Gene Perry, the current Ward Neff intern and a student pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s just a unique experience; it’s a unique way to interact with working journalists.”
Perry puts together PressNotes, a daily e-mail newsletter filled with news about the media. He also prepares news briefs for Quill magazine.
“Academically it has helped a lot,” Perry said. “I’ve found that I’m more up-to-date than the professors.”
Students who are working while in school are contributing to the profession and learning from working journalists, Vines said.
In order to receive that education, the Foundation supports programs such as the Chapter Scholarship Fund. It allows chapters to create an account within the Foundation so they can receive tax-deductible gifts for scholarships.
“We’re just in the beginnings of starting this scholarship fund,” said Emily Sweeney, president of the New England Pro chapter. “Which was pretty easy, thanks to the SDX foundation. It was just a matter of filing paperwork and then letting people know.”
The chapter began fund raising in spring 2004, and Sweeney said they hope to meet their $10,000 goal soon.
“I always think: What can SPJ do for our members and our future members,” she said. “And what better thing to do than to create a scholarship fund for college students?”
In addition to ongoing programs, the Foundation responds to emergency situations as they arise. When Hurricane Katrina created a massive emigration of college students from the Gulf area, the Foundation established a hurricane relief grant fund of $25,000. Students who needed the money to replace textbooks were given $250 checks.
“They responded quickly,” said Karmen Herring, a grant recipient who heard about the fund from her media ethics professor at the University of Memphis, where she transferred from Dillard University after the hurricane. She had money for new books within two weeks.
“It was just really nice, and it was very generous, and I’m really grateful,” Herring said.
The big picture of the Foundation’s efforts is improving journalism in general, according to Vines.
That task is especially relevant now that there is a growing population of people with little or no journalism training running media outlets or blogs, Ashton said.
“We are always looking for ideas and financial support from those who care about the quality of journalism,” Ashton said. “There is no more important task than to provide the information that is the essential underpinning of an effective, functioning democracy. We welcome support from anyone.”
Learn more about the Foundation and its work by visiting www.spj.org/sdx.