When Mead High School junior Shafiq Moltafet saw the posting on his teacher’s bulletin board, he took a picture.
“Coolest summer job in Spokane.”
Moltafet was all in. He immediately applied for the Teen Journalism Institute internship at The Spokesman-Review. The nine-week internship gives Moltafet and three fellow interns a glimpse into the world of journalism and a paycheck to boot.
The program, the first of its kind at The Spokesman-Review and one of the only paid high school journalism internships in the nation, was made possible through a grant from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and support from the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund.
The internship is designed to give students exposure to working journalists and the experience of talking with newsmakers.
Grace Sonnichsen, Jordan Tolley-Turner and Sophia McFarland are also members of the initial class of interns. All four students have already been published in The Spokesman-Review.
“I wanted to get into the reporting field and write stories about our community and problems people face,” said Moltafet, who was born in Afghanistan, moved to Moscow as a young child and eventually to Spokane in 2012.
“I am really interested in investigating international affairs and how the U.S. is involved,” said Moltafet, who has his sights set on attending Brown University, of the Ivy League. “Not enough light shines on places where there are no civil rights.”
Moltafet says he is learning how to talk to people “who are so much smarter.” His first interview was with a Washington state economist and it was “very intimidating.”
Sonnichsen also saw her teacher’s posting on the bulletin board and immediately thought of her older sister, Abby. “She is a really good writer,” Sonnichsen said. “But then I thought, ‘I should do this!’ ”
She was caught off guard when the internship started because she thought it would be like working at the yearbook. Sonnichsen is scheduled to be the editor-in-chief of the Mead yearbook in her senior year.
Sonnichsen’s first story was about the Spokane Fallen Memorial Project that honored slain police detective Brian Orchard.
“I quickly learned some people may not get back to you and some just don’t want to talk to you,” Sonnichsen said. “I was really pushed out of my comfort zone. I still get nervous, but this (internship) is really helping me.”
The young faces in our newsroom have made an impact.
“I’ve been impressed by our interns’ willingness to learn, report and write,” said Jonathan Brunt, The Spokesman-Review government editor. “Having engaged high school students working in the newsroom has reminded me how my interest in journalism was influenced strongly by opportunities I had in high school. Unfortunately, many of those opportunities have disappeared as schools have eliminated their school papers.”
For Tolley-Turner, a junior at Shadle Park, the internship has increased his passion for photo-journalism.
At the age of 4, Tolley-Turner’s aunt gave him a Kodak camera and he was hooked. He also tagged along with his great aunt to rodeo events and was fascinated with action. In 2018, he started shooting action photos for Pro-West Rodeo.
“I like being able to capture such a fast-paced event and to stop time – like having all four legs of a bull in the air and the rider in the middle,” Tolley-Turner said. “It’s great to capture such a natural moment in uncontrolled chaos.”
Tolley-Turner said he wanted a more disciplined experience as a photo journalist. “I am used to working on my own terms. I wanted to see what the professional world of journalism would be like, what’s it like to work under a deadline.”
His first published story in The Spokesman-Review was about eaglets falling from their nests in the extreme heat. On the same day, he had a feature photo published in the Northwest Section.
“It was really cool to see two things get published on the same day,” Tolley-Turner said.
He is in the editing process on a story about mountain caribou. It was a special story for Tolley-Turner because he interviewed David Moskowitz, a biologist, photographer and author. He has read one of Moskowitz’s books and is very familiar with his work as a biologist and photographer.
“I have loved getting into the experience of writing and taking photos and getting a sense of what it is really like as a photo-journalist,” Tolley-Turner said.
Gonzaga Prep junior McFarland has also been interested in writing and journalism. Her English teacher sent her a link to the Teen Journalism Institute and she didn’t hesitate to apply.
She also didn’t hesitate to write and diversify. Her first story was a review of HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl,” and she followed up with The Spokane Humane Society’s 18th annual Parade of Paws event. Up next was a first-person look at Spokane’s top food spots and then a review of Doja Cat’s “Planet Her” album.
The experience is similar to what she imagined it would be, but she was really impressed with the way the interns have been treated. “I didn’t think I would have my own computer and my own desk,” McFarland said. “It’s been easy to talk with people because when you tell them you are from a news organization, they appreciate you telling their story.”
McFarland is working on a story about Central Valley school board candidates. Her biggest challenge is writing in a different style.
“I think I’ve picked up on it pretty good,” McFarland said. “It’s different from other writing. You really need to quickly tell readers what is happening.
“I definitely want to continue writing. It’s been such a great experience working with real journalists.”
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