Hands-On Experience: Houston Defender Media Group partners with college students to cover Texas state politics.

Author:Mateos, Evelyn
Position:The A section

Motivated to give readers well-written and in depth coverage of the state legislature, and provide college students with real-world experience, the Houston Defender Media Group, an 88-year-old Black Press institution, came up with a unique partnership with local schools.

Last October, the publication reached out to the communications departments at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and Houston-Tillotson University (HT), a historically black campus, to find students to cover the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, which took place at the end of February this year.

"(The partnership) is rare from the standpoint that members of the black press rarely reach out to non-black universities to establish partnerships ... in this case we reached out to both," Houston Defender publisher and CEO Sonceria Messiah Jiles said.

There was no curated process to select the students; instead, professors were asked to choose the students.

"If anybody knew who could write, it was the professors," Messiah-Jiles said. "We didn't want to go through a random selection process and end up with poor quality."

Three students from UT were selected: Chase Karacostas, Alexis Tatum and Katie Balevic, along with two students from HT: Samaiya Kirven and McKayla Ellison.

To prepare for the event, the media company had teleconferences with the students so that they understood what type of audience the Defender had and what approach they wanted the students to tackle. Messiah-Jiles explained that as a weekly publication, they were seeking a news feature approach--"drilling down on the issue and finding out what the solutions were." The students were then assigned workshops based on their interest and class schedule. Workshops included criminal justice reform; juvenile justice reform; mental health and maternal...

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