Building Jamaica’s Next Generation of Journalists

K. Dominic McKenzie waves to an audience member during his graduate commencement keynote from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism last December at the New York Times Center. Photo Credit: Skyler Reid

I was raised in what is arguably the most famous Caribbean island known to the world; home to reggae and dancehall greats, the fastest men and women on the track and a spicy jerk sauce that has been mimicked by thousands — Jamaica.

But there’s a significant part of our culture that some may not know. We are high consumers of news.

In a country where radio and traditional broadcast news are still very much alive, anchors set the tone for our daily lives. Long-time journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller could say the sky is olive green and maroon, and we’d believe her. According to the 2014 All Media Survey, 811,000 Jamaicans were watching their televisions between 6:00 and 8:59 p.m., times when nightly news programs were on air. Those primetime broadcasts still command the highest viewership numbers and advertising dollars on television. Talk radio is also a central feature on the airwaves.

As a way to stay in touch, my father and I bonded — not over that famous food or reggae music — but while watching, listening to, and reading the news. Local station KLAS FM 89 was the first thing I heard every morning. My dad would then switch to the amusing sounds of Alan Magnus and Dorraine Samuels on RJR 94 FM. I knew I was late for school (and that happened pretty often) when I would hear the BBC Newshour jingle ringing at 8 a.m. Needless to say, journalism has been a fixture in my life since birth, and it seemed a career path was already chosen for me. But there were no real opportunities to cultivate that interest.

I resorted to creating my own newsletter, writing stories from a desk at home surrounded by clips from the Jamaica Gleaner, the Jamaica Observer and youth publication, YouthLink. Those stories I wrote never left my desk. My aunt recently told me that I approached her for sponsorship to print and distribute the newsletter to my local community. I was 13 years old! Like other youth who lived outside of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, I had little to no access to the best of media the country had to offer.

That created a problem for me, but I was lucky (or blessed.) My dad happened to meet the director of then-NCU Media Services, a small media operation out of the local university in my hometown. They ran a small radio station that broadcast to its campus and those in neighboring communities who were able to catch its weak signal on the 88.3 FM band. He told the director of my interest, and I was invited to meet with him later that week. That was 14 years ago. He saw a young, inquisitive high school kid who just needed guidance and direction. The station where I got my start years later, NCU 91 FM, is now the eighth most listened to station on the island, out of 26 competitors.

While several news outlets have opened shop outside of Kingston, the gap still remains. Students are still in search of that industry professional who will care enough to lend an ear, provide some well needed advice and guidance, but haven’t the slightest clue where to look first. JournoCollective is being created to fix that.

JournoCollective is a non-profit working to offer high school and college students an exclusive platform to learn from journalists through one-on-one mentorship and training.

The program is being built as part of a fellowship at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism in New York City. The fellowship, an MBA-like intensive program, explores new media business models, emerging technologies, design thinking and the conceptualization and execution of journalism startups. Located in the heart of the media capital of the world, the 2019 cohort has had the privilege to learn from some of the best in the business. Already, we’ve heard from start-up entrepreneurs and other industry executives at Facebook, the New Yorker, the New York Times, ProPublica and the Netflix show ‘The Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj’.

We are in the process of forging relationships with local media, journalism schools and journalists on the ground and those working in the diaspora, to better learn how an offering of this nature can be tailored to the demographic we’re targeting. We’ve heard from a number of students who’ve expressed a deep interest in this initiative and we’d love to hear from more. If you or a student you know can benefit from this program, encourage them to fill out this quick survey so we can better understand their needs and connect with them once JournoCollective begins its work. If you are a journalist, we need you! Fill out this quick survey so we can get in touch.

JournoCollective is not seeking to redefine journalism, but to equip those coming behind us with the tools and resources they need to excel. We are a collective working towards one goal. A well trained workforce. Why wait any longer?

In memory of Dorraine Samuels

K. Dominic McKenzie is a Tow Fellow at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism and a proud Master of Arts graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. He was an Obama White House HBCU Ambassador at Oakwood University in 2015 and a Knight Diversity Fellow in 2017. A broadcast coach at the Newmark J-School, Dominic has over ten years of working experience between the U.S. and his country of birth. He is also a graduate of Belair School and El Instituto de Mandevilla.

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