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For immediate release: August 22, 2003
Contact: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, (609) 258-2982, jlg@princeton.edu

Budding journalists get tips on reporting the news and applying to college

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jimmy Breslin looked out at the roomful of aspiring reporters gathered in Wilcox Hall at Princeton University this summer and told them there was only one way to be a good reporter: Use your feet.

"There's no such thing as a good story on the first floor. It's always on the fourth or fifth floor," he said. "If you're going to use the phone, get a job at Verizon. Don't use the phone. Go and see them."

Breslin was addressing the high school seniors participating in The Daily Princetonian Class of 2001 Summer Journalism Program. Run by Princeton alumni who worked as journalists in college, the program is for students from urban, disadvantaged school districts who are traditionally underrepresented in the worlds of collegiate and professional journalism. They are invited to live at the University for 10 days and attend classes to learn about journalism and the college admissions process.

This year, 21 students who will be seniors this fall at public high schools in the Northeast and Chicago are participating. The free program, which is in its second year, is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the University provides housing and meals.

Graduates of last year's inaugural session are headed for Stanford, Johns Hopkins and New York universities as well as Bowdoin College and the University of Virginia in the fall. Several of those students used the personal narratives they worked on during the program as their college essays, said Richard Just '01, a former editor-in-chief of The Prince who founded and directs the program.

The program aims to groom future journalists, but it also emphasizes college preparation by offering one-on-one mentoring about the application process and sessions on the SAT. "If some of the students go on to be lawyers or politicians and they appreciate the value of good journalism, that's great," said Just.

The students see the program as a chance to work on their journalism skills and get an up-close look at a college campus. "This will help me improve my writing for my college applications and for college in the future," said Zelma Ortiz, who is from New York City. So far, she has learned "to stick to the facts and be a little more concise" in her articles.

Walter Bryant, who is from Washington, D.C., will be editor-in-chief of his school newspaper next year. "I hope to go back to my school with ideas for our newspaper and a lot of insight on how I could be a better leader," he said.

This summer the program has expanded from a week to 10 days and added classes about broadcast journalism. And the program now has an intern, Alyson Zureick, who is a member of Princeton's class of 2006. She is developing ideas for expanding the program, writing fund-raising letters and keeping in touch with graduates of the program. Her internship is funded by the Class of 1969 Community Service Fund, which supports internships with community service and public service organizations.

The students also had their first encounter with a journalism legend. Breslin, the Newsday columnist who has been a reporter for 40 years, told the students about covering the funeral of President Kennedy and traveling to Sicily to write about the Mafia. He also described his first job, where he fetched coffee and penned obituaries. To land that first job, "Get on a bus and go to any town that has a newspaper or a TV station" and ask for a job, he told the students. "You'll find someone walking out while you walk in."

Most of all, he conveyed the delight he takes in being a reporter. When a student asked if he ever felt like he wanted to stop writing, he replied, "And do what?"

Zakiyyah Smith, who is from East Orange, N.J., liked what she heard.

"He said don't be objective, and that's what they always say to do in school," she noted. And she appreciated Breslin's blunt dictums. "He wasn't afraid to say what he felt."


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