Throughout the past few years, while many summer programs have had to push pause on programming, ThreeSixty Journalism, hasn’t stopped moving. This nonprofit multimedia program for high schoolers “trains and supports the next generation of diverse thinkers, communicators, and leaders.” And they know that especially in today’s world, a commitment to distribute the truth is needed in emerging storytellers. The journalistic field, like others, has been victim to the recent spike in resignation rates, and ThreeSixty is working to help make sure the next wave of journalists and digital mavens are prepared for the task.
Bellmont Partners has been a longtime supporter of ThreeSixty. Many on the Bellmont team have backgrounds in journalism and have spent summers volunteering with the program. As a cherished community partner, we reached out to Theresa Malloy Lemickson, Associate Director, to discuss the state of journalism for incoming youth and how they’ve navigated the pandemic.
What have been some of the communications challenges or shifts you’ve had to make throughout the pandemic, and what have you learned?
Engaging high school students in a virtual environment was challenging at first, but not impossible. When the pandemic started, we created an online program immediately to get students talking about what it was like to be a young person during the pandemic. We ended up transitioning all our summer programming that year online. We also have become more flexible in bringing in speakers and volunteers virtually. If anything, what we’ve learned during the pandemic has expanded our possibilities, and it’s expanded the array of people that our students have met with. We’ve had some really dedicated volunteers who are working from all over the country.
What’s something you’ve learned from the students you work with? Either in the past year or overall?
I feel like I learn all the time. The young people that I’ve worked with lately are more honest. They’re more willing to hold people accountable. They ask tough questions of the adults who are in the room, and I think that’s a powerful thing. Young people don’t have a lot of the social norms that professionals do, so there’s no fear, and it’s that fearlessness I find so inspiring.
What does it mean to you for you to be a digital media maven? How can communication professionals sharpen their digital skills?
Being a digital journalist today means really being creative. We were taught in journalism school that when you write a news story, you should write it at a fourth-grade reading level to appeal to a broad audience. Traditionally, news has been presented as a dumbed-down experience, and I have the opposite opinion. I think readers are smart and highly engaged, and they’re used to getting news anywhere so, right now for communicators, it’s really figuring out how to present information in an engaging and substantial way.
ThreeSixty is not only a program for students, but you also have a vast network of support. How can our readers support the work you all are doing, and why is it important?
ThreeSixty is always looking for professionals to volunteer as writing coaches, editors and guest speakers. When you sit in a room, listen to a student and give them that opportunity to interact as a professional, it’s so meaningful and powerful. We teach skills of writing and storytelling but they’re also learning how to be an adult and how to be a communicator. A lot of our students end up being change makers, and they’re disruptors in the best way. It’s important to support the future. Diversity in journalism is important, and it leads to social change. It leads to legislative changes. We’re at a crucial point, and what better way to invest in the future than to give your time to the students.
What’s Brewing for ThreeSixty? What’s coming up for the program and you?
I’m actually working on writing my master’s thesis in English. I’m writing it about an investigation that I started when I was working in a newsroom. It’s about elder abuse and neglect. I’m really using my journalism and investigative skills by incorporating some personal narrative in that as well, so that’s the big thing.
For programming, I would say, celebration, but also looking ahead to the future and a lot of advocacy work. ThreeSixty is getting ready for its 20th-anniversary fundraiser. Although we’re celebrating 20 years at St. Thomas, we’ve actually been a program for 50 years.
We also are starting to integrate ourselves more with the Emerging Media department and other opportunities around St. Thomas. We’re offering so many more camps. One of the biggest things we’ve been talking about is how we reduce equity barriers.
Students who participate in the Radio Camp that we do with Minnesota Public Radio, Kare SM, and – new this year – American Indian Family Center are all going to get a stipend at the end of the week for their time, and the same with our TV camp, which is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Center for Prevention. It’s cool to finally be offering that because I feel like that’s become a real difficulty for some students to attend the program.
Thank you, Theresa, for your dedication to the next generation of storytellers. To learn more about how to get involved or support these efforts, visit ThreeSixty.StThomas.edu.