Fourteen teenagers are brought together to live under one roof and perform tasks that stretch their limits, but by working together they form friendships and complete a project that once seemed impossible.

The latest summer reality show? No, it’s the Oklahoma Institute for Diversity in Journalism (OIDJ) taking place at the University of Oklahoma.

Minority students are encouraged to apply, but the program is open to all grade-level eligible students.

High school upperclassmen and recent graduates are spending this week and next at OU, where they will receive a little instruction and do a lot of work in putting together a newspaper from scratch. The finished product will be a publication called the Red Dirt Journal.

“The purpose is to expose them to a professional level of journalism, or a higher level than what they’ve been exposed to in high school,” said Fred Blevens, the workshop’s chief organizer. “They learn the process, ethics and skills that go into it with the hope they’ll consider journalism as a career.”

The students arrived Sunday and brainstormed for story ideas. By Monday, each was assigned a story (Lyndsey Carson has two) to research, do all interviews and write to a professional standard. Journalism faculty from OU and other universities, along with a few professionals, are there to instruct and guide, but students are responsible for the finished product.

C.J. Macklin, an OU sophomore-to-be, was part of the first OIDJ workshop last year and said the experience was a true eye-opener.

“By the end of the workshop, you really know if you’re cut out for this kind of work,” said Macklin, a student counselor this time around. “Some kids who did this last year aren’t in journalism now.”

For participants like Macklin and Peju Faboro, though, the workshop reinforced their interest in journalism and gave them an advantage over other students their age. Macklin, an aspiring music journalist from Highland Village, Texas, said the camp taught him the difference between writing research papers and writing a news story.

“You don’t write about a larger issue; you write about a (specific) story,” he said.

Faboro, an OU student and 2004 Norman High graduate, said she “got to see the real aspects of journalism, and not the sugar-coated version.

You get the good and the bad — stuff you wouldn’t know only in a classroom.”

So what did Faboro consider good and bad about news gathering?

“I loved learning more about subjects,” she said. “What I liked least was having to do follow-ups. I would have to call them back to confirm what they said. That was not as fun.”

The inaugural OIDJ workshop last summer was an exhausting effort for faculty organizers, but they decided to do it again. Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation approved its funding in February, which cleared the way for further planning. The Norman Transcript is a co-sponsor, along with other newspapers and companies.

Blevens, an associate dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, said working out all the details took about 20 percent of his time. The effort appeared to be worth it soon after the students arrived.

“Meeting them for the first time and hearing their ideas, I don’t know how they think,” Blevens said. “I think this group was as thoughtful and creative as I’ve ever seen.”

James S. Tyree


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