ThreeSixty Journalism summer camps aim to increase diversity

Isaac Santino-Garcia and Jaydin Fairbanks are frequent camp goers. In the summers, they attend the various media camps ThreeSixty Journalism hosts, like the podcast camp and its news reporter academy.

This year, they were at the television broadcast camp, where they worked on creating a broadcast news story. Santino-Garcia and Fairbanks dove into the topic of Native American boarding schools with their video.

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Topics like this need to be covered more, Santino-Garcia, an incoming junior at Cretin Derham Hall High School, said. And the best way to tell stories about different communities is to have those communities involved and lead the process.

Emphasis on diversity

Newsroom employees are more likely to be more white and male than U.S. workers overall, and more than three-quarters (77%) of newsroom employees are white, according to the Pew Research Center. ThreeSixty Journalism has been around for more than 20 years, partnering with the University of St. Thomas with a mission is to change how newsrooms look and the resulting narratives.

Santino-Garcia, who is Lower Sioux Dakota and White Earth Ojibwe, and half Mexican, thinks ThreeSixty puts underrepresented and marginalized voices first.

“Every story I’ve seen or at least heard about (in the program) has been somebody who’s not Caucasian and a story that might not have been regularly told,” he said.

For program graduate Samantha HoàngLong, being surrounded by so many kids of color was uplifting.

“It was like the first space to be a space that young with a class full of people who are also young journalists of color,” she said. “I feel really lucky that I was in a class full of diversity at that young age.”

How to increase newsroom diversity 

Part of bringing diversity into newsrooms is creating “incentive,” said Chad Caruthers, executive director of the journalism program. ThreeSixty also helps by giving stipends to the participants for their time and work.

“It was the only reason (I attended) at first, but then I kept doing other things (camps), and I stayed because I always liked it,” said Fairbanks, who is going to be a senior at Osseo High School.

The stipend allows people of various socioeconomic backgrounds to participate without the financial strain of losing income for a couple of weeks.

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“As students get older in high school, they work more, they need to support their families, they need to support themselves, whatever it may be. To come to a program that’s a week-long or two weeks long at St. Thomas during the summer means that they don’t work over that period of time,” Caruthers said. “If it’s not extra money in their pocket, we hope that it is replacing any income that they would lose by joining us.”

New beginnings

Because of the program, some kids are considering studying journalism or some form of media. Santino-Garcia wants to attend St. Thomas, where ThreeSixty offers a four-year scholarship.

“I like learning new things, and journalism gives me a good life experience that you may not learn other places,” Santino-Garcia said. “It just fascinates me because I can go out and tell other people’s stories that may not have been told.”

Samantha HoàngLong

Samantha HoàngLong

HoàngLong graduated from high school in 2017 and had attended several ThreeSixty camps, including the television broadcast camp. She started with the college essay boot camp in 2016, which prompted her interest in writing. She enjoyed it so much that she changed her career trajectory.

“I actually wanted to be a dentist before that. I was like applying to college with biology and biochemistry, and I was ready to go to dental school. And then I did this camp,” she said. “I learned that you can talk to people for a living and learn about what they do. I thought that was really cool, so I kind of just stuck with it.”

After graduating high school, she interned for ThreeSixty Journalism and learned more about video production. She received a four-year scholarship from ThreeSixty to study communication and journalism at St. Thomas.

At the most recent camp, Babs Santos from Fox 9 and Jeff Wagner from WCCO taught the students how to speak on air and how to structure a story. Another component of the program, HoàngLong said, was touring a newsroom.

HoàngLong appreciated seeing what happens behind the scenes in a newsroom.

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“I think having that experience right after high school gave me an advanced look of what it could be if I worked in that job,” she said. “Being able to access and walk through the newsrooms was really cool. That’s what made me want to go into broadcast TV.”

She went on to intern at Fox 9, then worked there after graduating college. She’s now on the audience team at Sahan Journal.

Program participants

ThreeSixty does some recruiting for potential participants but also partners with various schools that identify students who would be a good fit for the program. It offers seasonal journalism workshops throughout the year and a camp per week during the summer.

Caruthers said that free and reduced lunch eligible students pay nothing for the program, but there’s flexibility for other income levels. Typically, the organization aims for 80% of its participants to be free and reduced lunch qualified.

But the pandemic reduced that figure to between 50 and 75%.

“Harder to reach students became, in many cases, harder to reach during the pandemic,” Caruthers said. “You look at all the gaps that many of us hear about in terms of education gaps, health disparities, things like that. Technology gaps are a big one, and that’s part of it. When everything went to virtual, we had to do the same, and unfortunately, not all of our students have equal access to the technology that was required.”

Of the total participants, roughly 10 percent pay to attend, Caruthers said. It’s able to do so because of partnerships with the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield, which funds the projects, and helps with the topics. Blue Cross Blue Shield is a sponsor of the Race and Health Equity fellowship at MinnPost, but has no editorial say in content.

People who’ve attended ThreeSixty have gone on to work in newsrooms across the state. Some alumni are now at the Star Tribune, Fox 9, Sahan Journal, and MPR, among other places, Caruthers said.