Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Fellowships: Mid-Career Opportunities for Journalists

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Fellowships: Mid-Career Opportunities for Journalists

Article excerpt

Fellowships: Mid-Career Opportunities for Journalists.

Despite Abundance of Programs, Few Minorities Apply

by Mary-Christine Phillip

Almost everyone can benefit from a fellowship. And, although the number of these programs for journalists has increased in recent years, many of them are still relatively unknown to minorities, say those who are involved in the process.

In a profession where burnout is often commonplace, some professionals say that fellowships can be a perfect antidote to the frustration and stagnation that often force many of them to quit the business.

Some of the more popular fellowships offer reports, editors, photographers, broadcasters and freelance journalists -- who are in mid-career -- an opportunity to learn and reflect in a university setting for a full school year. Many who have snared these fellowships say it has made a difference in their careers.

"A fellowship gave me back the desire to be in journalism," says Betty Baye, a 1991 Nieman fellow who is now a columnist and editorial writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

"Before the fellowship, I felt that being in the business was not worth it. I was tired of the hassles and I was not happy." Baye continues: "I was an assistant editor in the neighborhood section of the paper and I wanted out. The fellowship was definitely a career saver for me. It gave me time to think about where I was in my career, and where I wanted to go."

There are more than a dozen types of fellowships for journalists in existence today that offer a range of general and specific studies. Many in charge of running these programs often complain about the dearth of minority applicants.

"You have to know the reason why you want a fellowship," says Joe Oglesby, a 1985 Nieman fellow who is now an editor at the Miami Herald. "I had been in the business for 15 years and was truly at a mid-point in my career. I was an editorial writer and I thought I needed to know more. I felt a fellowship would have allowed me time to get added knowledge to do a better job."

Oglesby says there are some people who seek fellowships because they want to get away from a problem, or because they need a break. These are not legitimate reasons, he says, and further, the selection panels on the boards of the various programs can sense these reasons. "There has to be a need, and most minorities have to overcome the thought that they are not qualified to apply, or that fellowships are difficult to get," says Oglesby.

Few Minorities Apply

William Kovach, director of the oldest and perhaps the most prestigious fellowship program for journalists in the nation -- the Nieman -- says that he's frustrated that so few minorities -- African Americans in particular -- choose to apply.

"I'm very frustrated with the [lack of] Black participation," he says. "My suspicion is that they are afraid to step out of the business for a year. They are afraid of what will happen when they return. They won't have that job security. While the number of applications from Hispanics, Asians, women and gays are up -- and they are not where they should really be -- the pace for Blacks seems to be slowing."

Allegra Bennett, an editorial writer at the Washington Times and a Michigan Fellowship alumna, says concerns over job security are very real to some people. That could be one of the drawbacks of taking a year off, she says, adding that since there is opportunity for much professional and personal growth, a fellow might have problems readjusting to life at the paper upon return.

"There is no question that you change," she says. …

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