By Kira Ratan–
Picture this: One hundred twenty-five 17-year-old high school journalists sitting in a Zoom room listening intently to a simulated press conference with breaking news. This happened every week for four weeks, and each conference is related to the one before it. We had to take notes—quickly, try to get our questions in, using our name and publication in a professional manner, after which we had twenty or so minutes to write a full breaking news story about the information given at the press conference. Let’s just say this: if I had problems with writer’s block, before, I don’t anymore.
This summer, I had the distinct privilege of being a “Cherub,” as aspiring journalists are called in the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, which I attended “virtually” for four weeks, interviewing people on the street, listening to simulated breaking news conferences, writing stories in under twenty minutes, and a whole lot more. They call the program an ‘intensive’ for a reason, but I feel so lucky to have been able to dive deep into the world of journalism with so many talented peers and world-class instructors, eager to share their wisdom.
The program began in late June and ended in late July. Although it was upsetting that we couldn’t be together in person on Northwestern University’s campus near Chicago, we certainly made the most of our time together virtually. There, I met 120+ incredible rising seniors from around the world and 11 highly successful and exceedingly supportive instructors. Staff members included seasoned Medill professors, Wall Street Journal correspondents, and senior editors at Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.
Our mornings were spent in lectures and discussions with various instructors about every aspect of journalism. At night, impressive guest speakers, such as the president of CNN and a Medill student-turned-Politico fellow, came and spoke with the group, answering questions and providing valuable insight as experts in the field.
While every lecture was informative and interesting in its own way, a few in particular were especially compelling. One of our instructors is currently a disaster correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and spoke to us about what it takes to prepare to enter the eye of a storm or drive toward the blaze of a wildfire as everyone else evacuates. I must say, at that moment I actually felt like putting myself directly in harm’s way for a good cause.
During one of our night lectures, we heard from a White House correspondent with the Washington Post, who also happened to be the valedictorian when he graduated from Medill, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Northwestern, and an alumnus of the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, where I am currently a student. Hearing about all the accomplishments of someone in his mid-twenties, yet already a top correspondent at the Post, was both inspiring and a bit daunting.
We had continuing discussions about specific topics throughout our time in the program. We had a class each week on ethics, where we discussed scenarios journalists find themselves in and how to handle them with integrity and empathy. Additionally, we had several classes on broadcast journalism, where we learned the basics of producing a piece for TV; we even shot and edited a few stories ourselves.
As someone who had found a passion for journalism before I attended the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, I have an entirely new appreciation for the craft and the professional field. In four weeks, I managed to gain more breadth and depth of all my journalistic skills than I thought possible. I learned so many new things about high school, college and professional journalism, and the skills I already had were monitored closely and strengthened with personal and detailed feedback from instructors.
This program has made me excited to see what the future holds. It has also taught me that it’s okay to not know exactly what’s in store for me yet. What I do know is that I’ve taken away invaluable lessons and journalistic insight and created lifelong friendships and relationships with caring students and instructors. The Journalism Institute dates back to 1934. The term “Cherub” was coined by then-Northwestern Dean Ralph Dennis to describe the bright young people who attended the program. Now I too am proud to call myself a Medill Cherub. I am forever grateful for this wonderful experience.
Kira Ratan, Editor-in-Chief of the Masters School student newspaper, Tower, as she enters her senior year, has interned for The Hudson Independent since she was a sophomore.