Fostering the next generation of local watchdog reporters

York Dispatch editorial board

We love journalism.

Perhaps this goes without saying — and it's a bit self-serving, too — but great watchdog reporting can solve problems, expose wrongdoing and inspire empathy for people unlike ourselves.

These things are as important now as they ever have been.

Journalists aren't some special breed but we are dwindling in number as our readers flee to alternative — and often less reliable — news sources. According to the Pew Research Center, American newsrooms lost nearly 44,000 workers since 2006. To put that number in context, it's as though a city the size of York disappeared.

More:Behind the mask, college is a lonely place for students during COVID

More:York College cybersecurity expert offers a lesson in disruption

More:'It's really weird': Scenes from the first day York College dropped its mask mandate

Against that backdrop, to say recruitment is a challenge would be an understatement.

But it's a challenge The York Dispatch is taking on proactively.

We're committed to providing you with quality watchdog reporting — breaking stories about racist book bans and a failing child welfare system — but also to fostering a new generation of local journalists with York roots.

To accomplish that, The York Dispatch teamed with the York College of Pennsylvania this year to help train reporters. Through this innovative mentorship program, we're helping student journalists report on the world around them. And we're providing a venue in their local newspaper to share their stories.

You may have already seen some of their reporting in these pages, with front page stories about the college COVID experience and the institution's first day without a mask mandate.

"One of my goals is to hire local journalists to report on the communities where they live," said Wallace McKelvey, the Dispatch's managing editor for content. "The best way I know how to do that is to connect with these potential recruits early and help them develop the skills they'll need to be watchdog reporters."

Wallace McKelvey, managing editor of The York Dispatch, speaks to York College journalism students as part of a mentoring program between the news organization and the college Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. Bill Kalina photo

As part of the program, McKelvey joined with York College journalism professor Paul Vigna to speak to his journalism students. Subsequently, he's worked one-on-one with students on several stories that have been published in the Dispatch.

>>Please check out the work of these promising young journalists — and consider subscribing to support local journalism.

"That the student gets a chance to work with another editor to improve the story is beneficial," said Vigna, a news editor at PennLive, "and certainly seeing it in print has been particularly gratifying, knowing that the audience size goes far beyond the current reach of The Spartan."

York College sophomore Alyson Hatfield stands near a sign outside the cafeteria in the Iosue Student Union at the campus Sunday, March 6, 2022. She is a political science major. Bill Kalina photo

Ultimately, the program is designed to show young journalists the tools of the trade — not simply editing their work but working with them to uncover the truth about their world.

"I will probably never forget walking up to the newspaper section and seeing my face on the top," said Alyson Hatfield, a journalism student whose story on the college COVID experience ran in the Dispatch. "I am immensely grateful for this experience."