Youth Journalism Institute students from left to right: Ana Fadul, 15, from Bogota, Colombia attends St. George's School of England. Owen Ferguson, 20, attends University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK. Bilge Nur Güven, 17, attends Cevre High School in Istanbul, Turkey. Norah Springborn, 16, attends Pekin High School in Illinois. Regina Lopez, 16, attends Liceo Mexicano Japonés in Mexico City. Parnian Shahsavary, 18, attends Hoda All-Girls High School in Tehran, Iran. (Photos courtesy of YJI students)
London Central Secondary School

Youth Journalism International provides all students with opportunities and a community

As news evolves over time, so do the journalists reporting it. For young reporters growing up in the digital era, location and age are two barriers that no longer exist. Today, there are various opportunities for young writers across the globe. 

Jackie Majerus, the executive director of Youth Journalism International is one among many who have opened doors for young journalists. She has dedicated her profession to mentoring young reporters, providing them with an international platform to publish their work. She strives to provide equal opportunity to all students regardless of what race, class, ethnicity, or country they originated from. 

“YJI empowers young people to tell stories from their communities,” she said. 

Examples of pieces published on Youth Journalism International include an award-winning series on teen suicide, an investigation on the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic  and a view inside the Myanmar protests

Youth Journalism International started as an educational nonprofit based in Bristol, Connecticut. Majerus said it started as a “tiny group that met in the upstairs conference room at the local paper’s office.”

Since then, it has grown to be an international family of reporters, illustrators and photographers. 

Majerus said she co-founded YJI with Steve Collins in 1994 after her editor at the time, Frank Keegan, pitched the idea. 

Although Keegan believed in youth being the leaders of tomorrow, he didn’t want to work with them, so Majerus took on the role. 

After she published an award-winning piece with 12 students on teen suicide, she said she realized how fulfilled she felt working with student journalists. 

“I love YJI so much that a decade ago, I devoted myself full time for no pay, to give everything I’ve got to make YJI flourish,“ Majerus said. ”I turned this little nonprofit into a global force for good.”

When asked about her experience being a student journalist, she shared a story about running an “underground newspaper” in her senior year of high school, rebelling against her school administration’s wishes. 

Majerus said she started the newspaper after three boys from her school press clashed over her selected editor position. 

According to Majerus, her school newspaper administrator didn’t want to deal with the conflict and only wanted a student editor to be the figurehead. 

“So, I ended up quitting the paper. I started my own little paper,” she said. “I had a really successful senior year as an underground journalist, where I put out a newspaper every two weeks, with a few of my friends.” 

Although student press freedom has come a long way since then, censorship is still a prominent issue today. 

Majerus said a YJI student turned to her after the school administration took down his story featuring a new gay, straight alliance club on his campus. The situation ended with Majerus writing a letter to the school to inform them about the legal freedoms of a journalist. 

For young reporters stuck between adhering to school administration and publishing the truth, Majerus advised them to just go for it. 

“If they can’t get it in their school newspaper, there are a couple of avenues that are open to them,” Majerus said. “Sometimes, it’s important that the story gets out.” 

Examples of alternatives for a school newspaper include pitching it to online news organizations and the local paper. 

For young emerging journalists looking for opportunities, Youth Journalism International provides an annual writing contest for reporters, photographers and illustrators ages 19 and under. 

Majerus said there weren’t any writing contests available for her growing up. Because trophies always went to the athletes, she wanted to create opportunities for writers. 

The annual YJI contest recognizes outstanding journalism achievement. Winners of the top five categories — student of the year, educator of the year, courage in journalism, top news, and commentary story — receive a crystal globe trophy. Aside from the main categories, there are a dozen more that award a custom-made certificate to winners. 

Majerus said she gets emotional reading the letters from students nominating their teacher for the educator of the year. She said students describe their journalism class as their family. 

“It’s like going home,” she said.

The sentiment of community and home is greatly emphasized in YJI. 

“When you join YJI, you become a part of a network of passionate student journalists,” Katrina Machetta, a YJI student said. “And most important of all, you become a part of a family.”