We're Live! YAJI Days One & Two

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Just a little before 3 p.m. Tuesday, Co-Op student Julie Francois was designing a radio show around gun violence. She had her topic: action before, during after the March for Our Lives. She had her guest—the musician Snoop Dog. Now she was brainstorming the right questions to ask him, the music that would play between segments, and the program's potential audience. 

Francois isn't a radio producer. Yet. But she's learning how to be. 

So concluded days one and two of our new Youth Arts Journalism Intensive (YAJI), an eight-week dive into arts journalism that began with a five-day intensive this Monday, April 16. In its pilot semester, Arts Paper staff Lucy Gellman and Stephen Urchick are working with a cohort of students from Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School (Co-Op).   

The program is focused on empowering young arts journalists in New Haven by giving them the tools to explore, expand, and challenge the definition of arts in the city. Already, student-reporters are coming up with innovative pitches: colorism in the high school classroom and on the movie screen, the connection between youth boxing and a police department trying to rebuild trust, how reading fiction earned a gender stereotype years ago that still persists. 

As we began the program this week, those pitch topics evolved as students learned the fundamentals of journalism in a progressively gig economy. On Monday, the group welcomed Sumorwuo Zaza, former director of international partnerships at The Huffington Post, to talk about contract law, intellectual property, goal planning, and dealing with discrimination in a field that is still very male, and very white. As he took a seat at the front of the class, students pulled out their contracts for the program—and renegotiated them for more inclusive language.

The idea behind the contracts is that students are legitimate freelancers for the Arts Paper, paid on a contractual basis to produce four pieces of content across the program's eight weeks (see our curriculum for more). 

But we're learning that sometimes, that means wording and rewording things like clauses around intellectual property to work in the freelancer's favor. As she read over the conditions of the program, Co-Op freshman Nadia "Navi" Gaskins.

Or Mellody Massaquoi, a creative writer who had been quiet for much of Zaza's presentation. As the afternoon crept on, she raised her hand. "What if you're in an interview, and the person is really racist or sexist?" she asked. "Can you ... walk away?"

Before we came to an answer—yes, if you choose to—we discussed it as a group. Questions like that are sticky, said Zaza: sometimes you can't control what an interview subject says, or whether they go off the rails in an interview. As a freelancer—and particularly a freelancer who is a woman of color, or trans, or disabled—you also may not have a system of protection in place. So you may want to ask for one up front.  

During and beyond this week, those kinds of choices are as much about YAJI as the changing mission of The Arts Council to serve a wider and more diverse audience, and be a more equitable face of the arts in New Haven. 

It's part of what Zaza called "the startup of you"—having a self-contained, attainable startup or gig that gives you a chance to grow while doing what you want to be doing. In this case, journalism that encompasses not only the fine, performing and culinary arts, but the broad spectrum of culture in the New Haven region. 

"You should have big, hairy, audacious goals," Zaza said. "But have a plan A, B and Z for them."

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"Are You Willing To Have Your Mind Changed?"

As students grew those hairy goals Tuesday morning, they got a reality check from New Haven Independent Reporter Markeshia Ricks—have hairy goals and hairy pitches, but go into them with an open mind. And be prepared for life to throw a wrench in those plans. 

The comment sprang from a pitch idea that Naama Gorham, a string student who lives across from King Robinson School, has been sculpting as the program unfolds. Gorham said she's noticed that Mayor Toni Harp lives in the same neighborhood, but doesn't spend that much time interacting with residents. Meanwhile, she's watched crime unfold on streets surrounding her home, and wondered why there can't be a better police presence in her neighborhood. 

Ricks listened, nodding. "You could spend a day following the mayor," she said. "But are you willing to have your mind changed? You might be surprised by what you learn."

Gorham's eyes opened a little wider. She hadn't anticipated this. On day one, she had gotten as far as a possible interview with Mayor Toni Harp. Now on day two, she was learning from Ricks that she needed to go into the assignment trying to push bias from her mind. 

"The mayor is a busy woman," Ricks said. She outlined what a day in the life might look like: business openings, press conferences at City Hall, meetings with the city's Board of Education and Board of Alders, testifying on behalf of New Haven at the State Capitol in Hartford. 

Gorham hung onto every word. She hadn't thought of that, she said. And now she was doubly interested in seeing the assignment through. 

That same sense of openness followed students into the afternoon, as they Gateway Community College's new CT Public studios with WNPR's Morning Edition host Diane Orson.  

What We're Reading/Watching/Listening To/Learning On Our Feet

• The New York Times writer David Brooks on "The Rise of the Amphibian" 
• "The Talented Tenth" by nineteenth-century historian, sociologist, and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois
• Linda Villarosa's feature in the New York Times on "Why America's Black Mothers Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis"
• Articles by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones at the independent non-profit investigative newsroom ProPublica
A podcast by LeVar Burton where he performs short stories
• Markeshia Ricks' story about the reunion of a displaced tenant and her pet parakeet for the New Haven Independent
• Summer internship opportunities with Connecticut Public/WNPR