Six student journalists began their summer in The Star’s newsroom Monday, the culmination of a year-long community journalism master’s program at the University of Alabama.
“They’re impressive,” said Tim Lockette, The Star’s state Capitol reporter, who coordinates the program for The Star.
“They’ve already done some interesting and clearly labor-intensive projects, so they’re coming on board with a lot of skills already,” he added.
Each of the student journalists has published a website tackling a particular issue and telling the stories of those involved.
Leah Cayson, a journalism graduate from the University of Mississippi, has taken on the issue of female body image with a project called “What is Beauty?”
Cayson, a 22-year-old from Fulton, Miss., served as a beauty intern at Fitness Magazine as an undergraduate.
“Whenever I was there, I just looked at the latest makeup trends, things for your hair and skin, and things like that,” she said. “I enjoy those things, but beauty is more than that.”
Cayson will cover public health while at The Star.
Madasyn Czebiniak, a 23-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., came to Alabama after graduating with a journalism degree from Purchase College, part of the State University of New York.
The program’s focus on community journalism is a departure from what she’s used to, she said, adding that in New York, the emphasis was on national and city news.
“Now that I’m in Anniston, it’s small and very friendly and family oriented,” she said. “I like it; I hope to learn and talk to different people.”
Czebiniak will cover public safety for The Star; while at Alabama she focused on the crime of bicycle theft on campus while profiling the cycling community in Tuscaloosa.
Courtney Davies of Prattville entered the community journalism program this year after a break from the business. A 2009 graduate of the University of Alabama undergraduate journalism program, Davies said she left school and entered the job market as the economy declined.
“That’s about the time the journalism bubble busted,” she said. Davies tried for a while to freelance as a photographer and spent some time working in the family business, Montgomery Radiator Company.
“Then I just decided I didn’t want to sell alternators anymore,” she said.
The 26-year-old said sports initially drew her into photography, and her master’s project suits that passion. She’s been following motocross athletes, interviewing them about their lives and trying to convey them holistically rather than through the narrow lens of their sport.
She will work as a photojournalist in The Star’s newsroom.
Debra Flax, 22, of Mountain Brook continues her journalism education at her alma mater. She comes from a military family and wanted to explore the military population at the University of Alabama while there. She profiled veterans, current service members and their dependents. She said her website allows the military students to connect with one another.
Flax, who worked with The Tuscaloosa News as a senior, said she loves the newsroom setting.
“Being in such a high-paced environment, it’s good experience,” she said. “You learn how to juggle, how to balance, how to organize.”
For Sara Milledge, the community journalism program is a change of her plotted course. A history and Spanish major at Auburn, Milledge was set to continue as an academic before deciding she couldn't write academic literature forever.
“I loved writing history and I loved working the archives, so working with real people has been a big shock because people move and don’t say what you want them to say, and archives are always there.”
Milledge, who will cover culture for The Star this summer, has been working on a project on Piper Place, a community mental health facility in Bessemer.
Katie Turpen was an English major at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, but after graduating wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her degree. After a year volunteering, she decided journalism was a good way to make her writing skills marketable.
Turpen created a project called “Eating Tuscaloosa” aimed at connecting the university students with the community while allowing her to follow her passion for food.
The 24-year-old Birmingham resident has no journalism background and is looking to cure her introversion while at The Star, where she will cover development.
“I feel pretty comfortable with the writing aspect,” she said. “But gaining reporting skills and all that comes with it ... is something I would love to take away from this.”
On Monday, Lockette had the interns delving into pending legislation in the Alabama Statehouse. “They’re already finding things that I’ve missed, so that’s always good,” he said.
Lockette said the the interns and a group of University of Alabama undergraduates have spent several months making public requests of Alabama school districts; they are looking into parents’ complaints about school library books for each district in the state.
“I’m really hopeful that we’re going to produce some great work this year,” he said.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.