It is normal, here, to write down fragments of conversation on scraps of paper, to be used in later writings.
It is normal, here, to take a photo of the mundane-to-other-people burger place, to illustrate and convey thoughts and feelings.
It is normal, here, to request the spelling of names during introductions, just to be sure.
This year’s 23 student journalists, who were selected from around 100 applicants, come from nine states — New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, California – and found themselves in Tucson, Ariz., to participate in The New York Times Student Journalism Institute at the University of Arizona.
Erik Reyna, 25, of Rio Grande City, Texas, applied for the mentorship opportunities and to make connections.
“This newsroom’s full of talent,” Reyna said. “I’m really excited about collaborating with folks here.”
Paul Ingram, 36, chose journalism as a second career after leaving his job as a tech writer. The Tucson native applied for the Institute after noticing its participants at the university last January.
“I see this as being a fantastic opportunity to hone my reporting and learn some new skills,” Ingram said.
During the two-week program, the students work with editors from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Tucson to cover daily news events as well as take on at least one long-form project.
The cast of editors is as diverse as the slew of participants:
Dean Chang, assistant metro editor of The Times. Aron Pilhofer, The Times’s editor of interactive news. Sarah Gassen, columnist and editorial writer at the Arizona Daily Star, contributor to The New York Times and adjunct instructor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism. Jose Lopez, staff picture editor at The Times. Martine King, transportation reporter at The Boston Globe. Sona Patel, social media editor at The Times. Angelica Rogers, staff editor for design at The Times, and an Institute graduate herself.
New to this year’s Institute is the social media desk, a needed component because of its general importance in the newsgathering and reporting processes, Patel said.
“In the daily news operations of The New York Times, social media is a huge factor of how we distribute news and collect it, and we want to make sure that, as students are reporting their stories, that they’re always considering how social media can play a role in their coverage,” Patel said. “More and more readers are finding news through social networks, and we need to be in the spaces where our readers are.”
Patel and the rest of the editorial staff will spend their days and late nights under the fluorescent lights of the newsroom with students who hope to polish their craft.
Don R. Hecker co-founded the Institute with Times senior editors Nancy Sharkey and Sheila Rule in 2003, and compares the students and their activities at the Institute to those of medical students.
“I like to say, we’re like the medical students in the emergency room, the residents who don’t yet have their M.D.s, but they’re still able to cut you open or put you back together again,” Hecker, the Institute director, said.
Sharkey, now the associate director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, said the Institute is important because it’s one of the few programs that brings highly talented students of diverse backgrounds together for intensive training.
“They’ve had good preparation from colleges, but this puts them into a professional environment that gives them a leg up as they enter the job force,” she said.
The Institute also serves as evidence that The Times is committed to diversity in the industry, said Desiree Dancy, The New York Times’ chief diversity officer and vice president for corporate human affairs. The Institute, coordinated by Dancy, is open to student members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists.
Most aspects of the Institute have remained the same as in past years, Dancy observed, but this is the first year that representatives from the police department, sheriff’s department and border patrol have come to speak to students about the way media relations are handled in their respective areas.
Dancy added that participants should remember to establish relationships with students and faculty and tap into their passion for journalism.
“Don’t rest on your laurels,” she said. “Continue to work hard.”