UTEP Offers Multimedia Journalism Training for the 21st Century

Originally published May 8, 2015

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

The University of Texas at El Paso has laid down several pathways to educate future generations of multimedia journalists and ensure their success in the changing journalistic landscape, either through teaching them directly or instructing their educators with a trio of initiatives – Journalism in July, Borderzine and the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy.

These efforts spring from both the technological revolution and in reaction to what Borderzine director and senior lecturer in multimedia Zita Arocha characterizes as “dire statistics.”

Borderzine director Zita Arocha works with KC Nelson on her multimedia journalism final project. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service
Borderzine director Zita Arocha works with KC Nelson on her multimedia journalism final project. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service

The numbers are reflected by the latest annual census on minorities in journalism by the American Society of News Editors. It reports that while minorities make up 37.02 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 13.34 percent of employees at the country’s nearly 1,400 full-time daily newspapers.

“Who’s telling the story of this country, from a demographic and immigration point of view?” Arocha asked. “I believe where we need to do the work is starting from the high school level or lower and through college, getting those students out into internships as soon as possible while they’re still in school, while also training instructors at Hispanic-Serving Institutions.”

Journalism in July (JiJ) began 13 years ago to introduce younger students from both sides of the El Paso border region to the ins and outs of news reporting from media law and ethics to editing, starting first as a print paper and evolving into a fully online publication. It is one of only 21 high school journalism programs around the country selected for sponsorship by the Dow Jones News Fund.

JiJ has resulted in a ripple effect whereby its participants take the skills they’ve learned in JiJ classrooms and reporting on the streets back to their high schools to train peers as well as teachers and staff.

College senior Genaro Cruz Martinez started his journalism trajectory with JiJ when he was a high school student in Juárez. The program both helped him become more fluent in English and gave him the opportunity to tell a story about Juárez’s soccer team, providing positivity for himself and his fellow citizens in an age of so much violence.

When Cruz Martinez arrived at UTEP, he rose up through multimedia classes to become city editor at Borderzine. He applied his training toward an internship and then paid employment at Univision Channel 26. He hopes to use his border expertise at an English-speaking outlet.

“As we’ve seen with executive action on immigration, there are not many people who are experienced with life on the border,” he said. “They’re not quite sure how it affects families who are separated or communities not on the border. Journalists like me can apply our experience nationally.”

The JiJ high school program was followed in 2008 by Borderzine, a classroom-newsroom framework that prepares young, bilingual journalists for jobs in 21st century news media.

“It was viewed as a national project while also being UTEP-specific because we have one of the largest numbers of Hispanic students studying communication and journalism,” Arocha said.

Borderzine’s partnerships span institutions around the country, including California State University Northridge, Columbia College Chicago, East Tennessee State University, University of Central Florida and University of Texas at San Antonio.

The education initiative and publishing platform also provides grants to enable students to get to multimedia journalism internships across the U.S., providing them with critical experience that gives them a leg up in the job market.

Aaron Montes, a senior majoring in multimedia journalism, took the Borderzine class last year and worked as city and multimedia editor this year. He will be traveling to New York City this summer as a participant in the Knight-CUNYJ Summer Internship Program, where he will receive both classroom training from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and an internship at a news outlet in the city.

Borderzine alumni have gone on to report for the AP’s bureau in Brazil, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Austin American Statesman.

The idea for the Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy sprung from one of Borderzine’s earliest partnerships with Imperial Valley College. The academy just finalized its sixth group of 12 journalism instructors who will be coming to campus at the end of May. Borderzine ran its own story about the forthcoming class and the academy’s successful immersive boot camp.

The number of applications has steadily risen since the program’s inception six years ago and come from all parts of the country. Teresa Ponte, chair of the Department of Journalism and Broadcasting at Florida International University, was a broadcast journalist who had been teaching for almost 15 years when she traveled to UTEP for the summer crash course. She always encourages her colleagues to apply for the opportunity.

“Having created our school’s first multimedia production course with two other colleagues, one would think that participating in the Dow Jones Multimedia Academy would have had less impact on my teaching,” she said. “In fact, this experience put me in my students’ shoes and gave me a different perspective that has allowed me to reevaluate and streamline some of the processes I use in the classroom. I have also incorporated some of the boot camp assignments we were given, which I found particularly useful as teaching tools.”

Elio Leturia, associate professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago, was impressed that instruction took place well beyond the classroom. “I had the chance to exchange ideas with other instructors from around the country, compare courses and pedagogies, and at the same time produce real multimedia pieces,” he said.

Students use campus resources to create and polish their final projects for Borderzine. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service
Students use campus resources to create and polish their final projects for Borderzine. Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP News Service

With these three programs, UTEP’s multimedia efforts are not simply reacting to a greater demand within the workforce. They are giving students the tools they need to stay ahead of rapid changes in media. With students producing bilingual content and sharing perspectives from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border – and instructors being trained on how to make the most of it all – the programs are inherently about offering diversity coupled with strength in mainstream sectors including government, business, tech and the like.

“We’re giving them experience in all the stuff employers want,” said Borderzine digital content manager Kate Gannon.