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Aspiring journalists learn newest skills for media jobs

Published: July 15th, 2014

Category: Spotlights


Aspiring journalists from high schools around the world came to the University of Florida this summer for a week-long immersion in the information industries.

The annual Summer Journalism Institute, known as SJI, which has been a staple of the college’s outreach efforts since the mid-1950s, doubled in attendance this year with 200 students from 19 states and three countries.

“You can’t imagine how happy we are seeing 200 of the world’s best young journalists on our campus learning the basic skills and setting them on a path to make our global community more informed,” said Steve Johnson, the camp’s director and visual coordinator for the college. “We spend months planning every detail of the camp, yet each year we are surprised at how the camp takes on a spirit of its own with new and returning campers connecting, learning and sharing stories — the SJI network is stronger than ever.”

The students spend a full week at UF learning from professors and professionals in the communications fields. They wake up at 6:30 a.m., eat breakfast at Gator Corner Dining and begin full days of newsroom classes, writing workshops, keynote speakers and specialized electives in meteorology, video storytelling, photography and anchoring. This year’s program added another full day of courses to the program, and gave students more flexibility to select topical electives in the afternoons.

With a staff of more than 30 UF alumni, professors, adjuncts and students, the camp is a 24/7 operation from when the first future Gator arrives to the last flight home.

“It was gratifying to see how many people from our college worked to create a unique experience for young journalists,” said Diane McFarlin, dean of the College of Journalism and Communications. “It is programs like SJI that open doors and foster ideas in the next generation of storytellers. Connecting them with our network through expanded classes, speakers from across the country and additional time on the UF campus is important, and it was the coordinated efforts of so many that made this year such a success.”

SJI is one of several entrepreneurial and outreach efforts at the college. As this legacy program continues to grow, other programs will grow out of it.

“We are planning to expand our workshops, including potential options targeted to high school advisors next summer,” said Randy Bennett, director of entrepreneurship and partnerships at the college. “There is so much we can offer high school journalists, educators and working professionals, that we feel like we have laid the groundwork for even more outreach in the coming year.”

While at UF, the students worked in the college’s Innovation News Center, broadcast radio and television studios and labs to practice the most current methods of storytelling.

Their work was curated on the camp’s Tumblr page ( and shared across the college’s social networks of prospective and current students, alumni and friends.

“We’ve been constantly retooling the curriculum of the camp to keep up with the changing way we communicate,” Johnson said. “Historically, the camp used to produce a physical paper to distribute to its participants; now we are producing digital-first content and sharing it with our networks of thousands.”

The college is already planning SJI 2015 and more information will be posted at

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