By Richard Prince, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
NEW YORK - The presidents of two journalist- of-color associations have appealed to Tom Curley, president and CEO of the Associated Press, to save the AP's internship program. But Rhonda LeValdo, president of the Native American Journalists Association, said, "It doesn't look good to me."
Curley responded to a four-paragraph appeal from LeValdo with a single sentence, "Rhonda, We simply must focus resources, especially staff time, in 2011 on getting projects accomplished."
Sharon Chan, president of the Asian American Journalists Association, said she spoke with Curley by telephone and sent an e-mail as a follow-up.
"I know you’re facing some tough choices and you have to reduce spending somewhere," Chan wrote. "I hope the AP will consider shrinking the internship program instead of eliminating it altogether. The internship program has had a huge impact on diversity over its history and the AAJA students who have gone through the program have become full-time journalists, including Sudhin Thanawala, a 2007 AAJA/AP intern who is now a reporter at the AP.
"I realize you’re making the decision from a business perspective. From the business perspective, I think the internship program is low cost and high impact in terms of the future of what your news organization will look like. Businesses that will succeed in the future will look like the readers and customers they serve."
LeValdo wrote, "The diversity of the program enhances the coverage of news that might not ordinarily be covered and a news organization should reflect the diversity of the American public.
"Please, as well, take into consideration our current students in journalism and give them the opportunity to learn from great mentors that are available through the Associated Press."
AP spokesman Paul D. Colford declined to confirm that the Dec. 2 committee meeting to select next year's interns was still scheduled. Nor would he say what kind of feedback Curley had received on the prospect of shutting down the program or to comment on when AP expected a decision.
"I have nothing further on this at the moment. Happy Thanksgiving," Colford said by e-mail.
[On Thursday, Kathy Y. Times, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said by e-mail that Deirdre Childress, NABJ's vice president for print, "was going to reach out to someone there so that we can fully understand what happened, then try to come up with a solution. Very unfortunate since many black students really need the experience and income that come with the internships."]
Hollis Towns, president of the Associated Press Managing Editors, an association of editors at AP's 1,500 member newspapers in the U.S. and newspapers served by the Canadian Press in Canada, did not respond to requests for comment. Towns is executive editor of the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, N.J.
The internship initiative started in the early 1980s and was formerly known as the Minority Internship Program.
Its creation followed a settlement negotiated among the AP, the Newspaper Guild and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in turn followed a 1973 complaint filed with the EEOC by female AP employees. The settlement "included not only back pay but a training program to prepare women for promotional opportunities and an affirmative action plan for women, blacks and Latinos,"Kay Mills wrote in her 1988 book, "A Place in the News: From the Women's Pages to the Front Page."
Its graduates have advanced to prominent positions inside and outside the AP.
"I spent two years with AP, and I am grateful to this day for both the training I got from SPMJ [the Maynard Institute's Summer Program for Minority Journalists] to prepare me for my career, and for the AP for launching my 33-year career," Denise Bridges, director of newsroom operations and staff development at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., wrote in the "Journal-isms" comment section.
"Then-CEO Lou Boccardi used to say there was no story that couldn't be told in 700 words or less, so I learned how to write tight.
"From legendary court reporter Linda Deutsch I learned how to dictate straight out of my notebook — not missing a comma, quotation mark or new graf. And long before 'online' became all the rage, AP taught me how to write 'for broadcast,' which provided the 'rip and read' copy that radio stations read on the air to this day. . . . for the AP to be ending its minority internship program (in all likelihood it's probably a done deal) is just woefully, painfully sad."