For students of color, diversity fellowships help close the opportunity gap

As part of an initiative in the magazine, news and digital journalism (MND) department to increase diversity within newsrooms, three students of color participated in paid fellowships offered through partnerships between the Newhouse School and top media companies.

Michaela Greer, Weng Ian Chong and Shannon Stubbs
Michaela Greer G’19, Weng Ian Cheong G’19 and senior Shannon Stubbs

Shannon Stubbs, a senior in the MND program, worked at Bustle in New York last summer, while Newhouse magazine, newspaper and online journalism (MNO) alumni Weng Ian Cheong G’19 and Michaela Greer G’19 spent their summers at LinkedIn in New York. 

The Bustle and LinkedIn fellowships are the latest in a string of such media partnerships developed by MND chair and MNO director Melissa Chessher. After learning that a student of color felt discouraged by the lack of diversity in newsrooms, Chessher decided it was time to be proactive about the problem. 

“I wanted to create more professional experiences that helped create a pipeline from Newhouse for students of color into the industry,” says Chessher. 

The first fellowship, offered in a partnership with Time, Inc., launched in 2017. The Bustle and LinkedIn fellowships were announced this past spring, and Insider, Inc. will offer a paid fellowship during the spring 2020 semester. Chessher intends to continue building industry partnerships, and hopes to create similar programs at Hearst and Condé Nast.

Stubbs’s fellowship had her working for the entire Bustle digital group, giving her plenty of opportunities to network, and helping her focus her topical interests to beauty and lifestyle.

“They gave me a lot of opportunities to write whatever I wanted, but also gave me assignments,” Stubbs says. “I was always doing something.”

As someone who is usually the only person of color in her Newhouse courses, Stubbs says these initiatives are a start toward fostering diversity in newsrooms.

For Greer, diversity is important for everyone because “we learn the most from people who don’t have similar experiences.”

Cheong says diversity also inspires those who are typically underrepresented in media. “If I see an Asian name in the byline of a well-established article, I get motivated to think that I can do that, too.”

And now, both Cheong and Greer have the opportunity to pay that inspiration forward. Greer has accepted a full-time position with LinkedIn, and Cheong remains there this fall after having received an extension on her summer internship.

“I achieved an associate video producer byline, reported on editorial features [and] pulled data, and now I understand capital markets and funding,” Cheong says. “If you would have asked me a couple months ago if I would ever do business reporting, the answer would be no, but now I’m actually considering it.”

“This is important work for many reasons, but I consider it integral to journalism’s future. I also think it’s important to point out that these efforts are about more than equality or social good,” Chessher says. “When everyone in the room looks the same [or] comes from a similar background, big mistakes are made, great stories go untold and readership suffers.”

For the students chosen for these experiences, the opportunity helps build confidence and optimism.

“For students of color, your background, your race, your ethnicity—all of that—is going to be your strength,” Cheong says.

Jewél Jackson is a junior in the magazine, newspaper and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.