ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program

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ELi Summer Youth Journalism Program graduate Noa Kuszai reporting from the Crystal Awards ceremony.

East Lansing Info (ELi) isn’t just about producing meaningful news for the people of the East Lansing area. It’s also about engaging our community in the process of public-service journalism so that we increase media literacy and appreciation for high-quality journalism.

We believe it is our job to help the people of our community learn to distinguish between real news and fake, independent news versus “sponsored content” (which we never publish), and fact from opinion.

Our Summer Youth Journalism Program, running annually since 2017, contributes to both sides of ELi – news production and promotion of media literacy.

Our program Director, Cody Harrell, has been at the heart of the program’s success.

Cody Harrell, Director of ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program

Cody is a teacher of Journalism and English at East Lansing High School and holds a degree in Journalism from MSU. ELHS students who have worked with him praise him as a student-centered, engaging, effective educator. While at MSU, Cody specialized in graphic design, publication design and web design. He also earned accolades from the Journalism Education Association, the Society for News Design and the School of Journalism at MSU.

Application to participate in the program is open to those age 15-22 who are residents of the greater East Lansing area (including but not limited to Lansing, Okemos, Dewitt, and Holt), including those from farther away who are living in this area to attend MSU. Students receive an educational stipend at the completion of the two-week program.

2017 ELi Summer Youth Journalism program participants. Top row, from left: John Paul Robowski, Kepler Domurat-Sousa, Cody Harrell (director), Berkley Sorrells, Nadiah Dowker, Gadir Mohamed. Bottom row, from left: Grace Bargerstock, Evan Dempsey, Faiza Omar.

Topics in the two-week introductory program include first-amendment law, professional journalistic ethics, news hierarchy, interview techniques, concise writing, Associated Press styling, interpreting legal documents, the Freedom of Information Act in theory and practice, basic photojournalism, and more.

Community members and journalists are invited as guests to speak on topics that the class explores. Previous guests have included the deputy police chief, director of public works, working reporters, and a retired photojournalist.

Guest speakers at the program have included (from left) former journalism and ELi Board Member (now Board President) Sam Hosey Jr., East Lansing Director of Public Works Scott House, and then-Deputy Police Chief Steve Gonzalez (now Interim Chief).

By the end of this two-week program, students can apply to be phased into the regular ELi reporting team to assist in local investigative journalism and community news reporting. They are paid on the same per-article scale as other reporters.

2018 ELi Summer Youth Journalism Program participants, from eft to right: Amalia Medina, Cody Harrell (director), Thao Nguyen, Somer Sodeman, Charlie Meyers, Noa Kuszai, Lucy Mumma, Alex Hosey, Griffin Pickett, James Hosey.

In 2019, Cody developed a second “advanced” course focused on investigative journalism. In the advanced course, students developed not only research and writing skills, but also learned about the central importance of investigative journalism to democracy. They engaged in issues of responsibility and justice using local stories as a lens.

In 2020, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cody moved our tier-one and tier-two programs online, and carried on.

The participants of the 2020 ELi Summer Youth Journalism Program (held online).

While we don’t pretend that a young person can become the equivalent of a professional reporter from a two-week course, we have found that Cody’s twin programs dramatically advance the interest in and appreciation of journalism among the program participants. We also find that graduates of the program are typically well-prepared to work with us on serious reporting.

2019 Summer Youth Journalism Program participants, from left: Chris Hosey, Ashleigh Weiszbrod, Anaiis Rios-Kasoga, Noor Pawar, Rylie McClean, Xochitl Kwasnik, Cody Harrell (director), and Sophia Strasburg.

We are so very grateful to the individuals and institutions that have helped financially with this annual program, including the East Lansing Public Library which has provided space at no charge every year.

In 2017, we were awarded a $3,600 grant from the Lansing Area Community Trust for this program, which enabled us to launch the whole endeavor on a solid footing as we could pay Cody to focus on novel curriculum development. (He ended up using some of it at the high school in coming years!)

In 2019, we were honored to receive a sponsorship for the program from Fifth Third Bank. Funding for the 2019 program also came via donations from Niki and Jason Schreiber, Colleen M. Kiernan, and Aron Sousa (my spouse) and myself.

You can read our reports from the 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 programs. We invite you to contact us if you want to participate in or sponsor the program.

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