Using his Sam Houston State University education as a springboard, recent graduate Nick Cenegy became one of just six students in an innovative and highly selective graduate program this August at the University of Alabama.
The program, known as the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program, unites The Anniston Star, located in Anniston, Alabama and the University of Alabama to teach students about the community journalism profession. Through the program, students gain experience in community journalism while pursuing a master’s degree in the field.
“It’s more practical to teach the students in a newspaper than in a classroom,” Director of Knight Community Journalism Fellows Chris Waddel said. “The students take four three-hour courses and one one-hour course. They write news stories and in-depth stories for the professors that are then put into the paper.”
Similar to medical students working in a hospital, the graduate students in the Community Journalism program work at “the teaching newspaper” while simultaneously taking classes through the University of Alabama.
“We modeled the paper after a teaching hospital,” Waddel said. “Our students learn about community journalism through the paper much like a medical student uses the hospital to study medicine,”
Cenegy first heard about the program through Michael Blackman, a professor and “The Houstonian” advisor at SHSU.
“Mr. Blackman actually told me about it. I’d applied for a job at The Anniston Star without even knowing about the graduate program, and Mr. Blackman told me the grad program was a great program that I should look into,” Cenegy said.
The program admitted just six students, one man and five women, in its first year. According to the Web site, http://www.comj.ua.edu, two more students will be admitted each year until the program reaches 12 students.
“It’s excellent. It’s even better than we planned,” Waddel said. “We had a lot of interest. We’ll start recruiting and admitting again in the Spring.”
Students in the program live and take classes in Anniston, which is about two hours away from the main campus of The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. In an unusual twist, professors actually drive to Anniston to meet students in a room reserved just for the students to take their classes. Students enter the program in late August and work through the next year. All tuition is waived and students receive a stipend to help with living expenses.
“Our professors drive here [Anniston] to teach us. Members of The Star’s staff also work with the professors to teach our classes,” Cenegy said.
While deeply involved in the production of the paper, the grad students are expected to carry a full 15-hour course load each semester.
“They’re excellent. Their grad school students so there’s no room for mediocrity,” Waddel said. “It’s intense.”
Contrary to most communication schools, the Knight Fellows program focuses on community journalism. Cenegy said everything in the program is given a community spin and students are highly encouraged to pursue a career in community journalism.
“A lot can be done outside of community papers using a community mentality,” Cenegy said. ” We bring try to bring a community focus to foreign issues.”
As the only student in the program from the Western portion of the nation, Waddel said Cenegy brings an interesting perspective to the program.
“Nick is quite interesting. He’s our Westernmost fellow, which brings a whole different perspective,” Waddel said. “Most of our students are from the Eastern seaboard, but Nick brings a diversity of perspective.”
The Anniston Star is a daily newspaper in Anniston, Alabama with a circulation of about 27,000. Known for its forward thinking and frequent coverage of big issues, The Star has frequently scored in the Top 30 in yearly quality ratings from Time Inc.
“Everybody at The Star is great,” Cenegy said. “They would bend over backward to help us with anything we need. It’s like an open dialogue between the students and the staff. The employees, the editors; they’re all awesome.”