Education

Student journalism at VTDigger: The Underground Workshop

Student Journalism at VTDigger: The Underground Workshop

VTDigger is proud to introduce our new platform for student journalism, the Underground Workshop.

Our goals are to…

  • give more young Vermonters access to the transformative experiences of reporting and publication,
  • bring more students’ voices into the public sphere,
  • facilitate collaboration among student reporters from across Vermont,
  • and help students produce compelling journalism for a statewide audience.  

The Underground Workshop seeks to be as inclusive as possible: We welcome the involvement of both high school and college students, working within the framework of a course or independently.

We’re eager to help students find ways to earn credit for their work, and to help teachers tie reporting into their curriculum.

We will hold an informational meeting for teachers on Thurs. Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. Students interested in pursuing independent reporting projects are also welcome to attend. Please read on for an overview of the project and email [email protected] to RSVP.

What will we publish?

The Underground Workshop will rarely publish breaking news. Students are not full-time journalists, they need time to organize and revise their work. Mostly we’ll present feature pieces, stories that remain relevant months after the reporting.   

The Workshop’s statewide audience requires our work to have broad appeal.  Our strategy will be to engage readers through storytelling, using specific local examples to explore the broader issues we face in Vermont.  Each of our towns has its own characters and controversies, its tragedies and triumphs, its particular solutions to our many challenges (how to reopen our schools, for example). Readers always have room for another story, so long as it’s told well. 

The Underground Workshop will lead collaborative projects throughout the school year (details below) and will also accept independent submissions.  We will not publish opinion pieces or personal narratives, but we can publish photo essays, podcasts, short documentaries — stories in many forms, based on interviews and direct reporting in Vermont.

What’s in it for students?

VTDigger is underwritten by:

Journalism is the “authentic student voice” we often struggle to facilitate in our schools, and young Vermonters have never needed it more.

This fall, for example, students are at the center of Vermont’s most important ongoing story — and the subject of our first collaborative project — the reopening of our schools. Simply documenting these events as they unfold, from inside the schools instead of from without, will have real value to the community, and it will also bring the students’ perspective into better focus for our educational and policy leaders. In this way, one student’s reporting can benefit all students.

Journalism is also an opportunity for students to build essential skills for any future career, and published work is a strong addition to a student’s academic portfolio.  Vermont’s commitment to flexible pathways and personalized learning should support students earning credit in some form at their school.

But ask any student whose reporting has impacted their community: The grade or college application is beside the point.  This is real civic service, helping to sustain our public discourse through a period of rapid change and unprecedented challenge.  Journalism is hard work, and tremendously rewarding.

A Valley News Story from 2018 documented the decline of student journalism in Vermont

How can students contribute?

1. Collaborative Projects

We are pursuing four collaborative reporting projects this year, seeking to build community in the same way music festivals bring students from several schools together around a shared performance. Each student will contribute a small piece to the larger project, accomplishing depth and substance through collective reporting.

We will hold evening workshops over zoom for both the reporting and writing phases for each project. Reporting workshops will clarify the assignments and bring students together to strategize before they go into the field for interviews. Weeks later, students will bring drafts to writing workshops and receive feedback from their peers, then they have another couple weeks to revise before submitting for publication.

Students may join a collaborative project independently, with a partner or small group, or with the guidance of a teacher who incorporates the assignment into a course.  

Each student will need support from their own teacher (or another editor) to revise and proofread their writing, but conferences with students and teachers are also available for planning, troubleshooting, etc.

Ben Heintz is the Underground Workshop’s editor; Emma Cotton, VTDigger’s southern Vermont reporter and Report for America corps member, will co-host workshops and help to support projects in southern Vermont. Students or teachers interested to join a collaborative project should email [email protected] to confirm participation.

Our project for the school year’s first quarter:

Uncertain Learning: Inside Vermont’s Schools

Download the assignment here.

  • Reporting Workshop: 8 p.m., Thurs. Sept. 24
  • Writing Workshop: 8 p.m., Thurs. Oct. 8
  • Publication: A continuing series through the fall

Our other collaborative projects for this school year:

Quarter 2: Red State Vermont

VTDigger is underwritten by:

Download the assignment here.

Vermont’s Young Conservatives, In Their Own Words

Quarter 3: Our Pandemic Media, Then And Now

In partnership with the Vermont Historical Society

Quarter 4: Resilience, A Multimedia Features Contest

Narrative Nonfiction, in written, audio and visual forms, with seriously good prizes for the winners.

2. Independent Reporting

The four collaborative projects for this year represent just a few opportunities for student reporting. Each of Vermont’s communities has its own experiences related to public health, social justice, economic challenges, the environment, the opiate crisis, etc. There are many issues with enduring relevance for a statewide audience: the trick is to find a specific local story, with the descriptive details to keep readers engaged, learning something new.

Teachers may also design a project of their own, working to incorporate reporting into a course. This kind of community engagement and rigorous writing process can support learning outcomes for students across many content areas — social studies, science, etc. — not just a designated journalism course. We’re eager to brainstorm with interested teachers.

Students can also pursue their own reporting and submit work for publication independently. They should be able to earn credit for their participation, incorporating it into an independent study, demonstrating “Engaged Citizenship” as a graduation requirement, etc. 

Not all submissions will be published: We are focused on quality above quantity.  Stories must accomplish statewide relevance, maintain a clear and concise writing style, incorporate high-quality visual elements and demonstrate high journalistic standards. Often submissions will receive some basic feedback. Students can revise and submit again.

Every submission must include a cover sheet describing the reporting process, verifying sources and documenting their consent.  Students also need to identify at least one writing coach/proofreader who can serve as their copy editor.  

Students or teachers who would like to design their own projects should email [email protected] with a brief description of their plan and their target date for publication.

Statement of Purpose

Many young Vermonters are seeking real opportunities for civic engagement.   They are more aware and capable than adults often assume, and we need to prepare them for leadership. The Underground Workshop treats young journalists not just as students but as coequal stakeholders in the public sphere.   

Journalism is among the most powerful forms of civic training. Every interview teaches curiosity, empathy and independence.  Publication teaches accountability.  And when student reporting reaches a large audience it has clear civic value: every citizen benefits when young voices help to frame the discussion. 

Students who participate in the Underground Workshop help to fulfill the mission of the Vermont Journalism Trust: “to produce rigorous journalism that explains complex issues, holds the government accountable to the public, and engages Vermonters in the democratic process.”

The Underground Workshop is  precisely the project-based, personalized learning Vermont’s schools are working toward, and its evening workshop meetings are adaptable to students’ schedules, regardless of their particular schools’ approach this year.   

To join this effort, or for more information, please email [email protected]  

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Underground Workshop

About Underground Workshop

The Underground Workshop is a collaborative network of students and teachers from across Vermont, working with VTDigger to publish student journalism for a statewide audience. Students are welcome to join at any time. For more information please email Ben Heintz, the Workshop's editor, at [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

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VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.

 

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