UR students studying journalism in the London Underground

Sophomore journalists test skills in the UK

April 30, 2024

Student Experience

Richmond journalism alumni have landed prestigious reporting positions with major outlets like The New York Times and the Washington Post. A few have even earned a Pulitzer Prize for their work. And nearly all of them got their start at smaller news outlets, reporting on city council meetings, school board decisions, and zoning appeals.

In Tom Mullen’s Sophomore Scholars in Residence course, Community Journalism at Home and Abroad, 10 sophomores are getting that experience early by working alongside journalists at hyperlocal publications in Richmond and London.

“I'm not going to downplay the role of national media,” said Mullen, who is the director of public affairs journalism. “But for most of us, our local news is what most shapes our lives.”

The course began with an introduction to Richmond’s media landscape, with guest speakers from the Henrico Citizen, the Richmond Free Press, and Engage Louisa, a Substack email publication produced by one reporter covering nearby Louisa County. Students also had assignments that challenged them to meet deadlines, write accurate synopses, and synthesize government documents into a readable story in 30 minutes. They then took those skills and applied them to assignments for The Collegian and area publications.

Nick Mossman said reporting on school board meetings and local government events allowed him to explore the intersections of his double-major in political science and journalism. The best, he said, was participating in The Collegian’s live coverage of the 2023 Virginia General Assembly elections.  

“I wrote a bunch of articles that night for the student newspaper, summarizing the results and explaining Governor [Glenn] Youngkin’s role,” he said. “It was a really cool opportunity that definitely sparked my interest in covering elections in the future.”

After testing the waters locally, the class was introduced to community-based journalism abroad, thanks to a partnership with the South London Press, a hyperlocal newspaper, and the University of Northampton, a public university just outside London.

Along with Mullen and visiting journalism professor Betsy Mullen, the class spent a week in London where they visited museums and markets, attended shows, and were immersed in the local culture while searching for stories to report. At Northampton, the class spent a day collaborating with UK students on a long-form radio broadcast, complete with original reporting and voiceovers. Then, South London Press news editor Charlie Stong sent students out for an independent reporting assignment.

“It was an opportunity to show that the basic principles of journalism apply at every level,” Mullen said “You need to have curiosity. You need to ask questions. And most importantly, you need to listen to the answers and write something compelling. The best journalists can make a sewer line easement sound interesting.”

Rosalie Hinke, a double major in journalism and environmental studies, was intrigued by the housing crisis in London after seeing firsthand how many people were living on the streets. But to report on homelessness, she knew she needed more than statistics to connect with readers. So, one night, Hinke headed for the Tube, London’s rapid transit system, to interview people experiencing homelessness while the Mullens observed nearby.

Hinke had a lengthy conversation with one man, Cristobal, who became the focal point of her story.

“It was scary going up to people and talking to them,” Hinke said. “But once I connected with them, I felt like I was doing something that had a purpose.”

Reporting stories directly from the streets of Richmond and London gave these emerging journalists a chance to better understand the reporting process, get past their fears, and build a portfolio that will help launch their careers.

One student, Kelsey McCabe, is already planning to expand on her experience in the course when she returns to London this summer as an intern for the South London Press, thanks to a grant from the Richmond Guarantee.

“My first experience in journalism was with The Collegian,” said the journalism and global studies major. “But I really wanted to get experience in broader community-based journalism, outside of UR. Stories about road repairs in Henrico County don't feel as glamorous as The Washington Post or The New York Times, but that's the information that people need every day.”