UMass journalism student files White House report

  • Univeristy of Massachusetts Amherst journalism student James Villalobos edits his story about the Howard University commencement during his time at the White House press office. Photo courtesy of Newsroom U

  • Univeristy of Massachusetts Amherst journalism student James Villalobos interviews Kevin Davinport Jr. at the Howard University commencement. Photo courtesy of Newsroom U Photo courtesy of Newsroom U

For the Gazette
Published: 5/24/2016 5:10:34 PM

AMHERST – James Villalobos had already reached a personal benchmark twice when he returned to the White House earlier this month as part of the college journalism program Newsroom U.

The program from May 5 to 8 gave students the opportunity to report stories on issues affecting millennials in the Washington, D.C., area, Villalobos said. He was one of about 25 participating students from across the country.

Villalobos, 20, of Springfield, who will be a senior at UMass in the fall, had previously covered a White House ceremony honoring the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, as well as this year’s Easter Egg Roll.

“I had these goals I wanted to accomplish in college, and one of them was to report from the White House,” said Villalobos, who also contributes to the Amherst Wire and will intern at USA Today this summer.

The weekend was the first for Newsroom U, which was created by Imani Cheers, an assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University. She said the program was designed to give students professional media experience.

“The whole idea was to give the opportunity to diverse students, especially students of color, who might not have this opportunity,” she said.

Villalobos’ return to the White House included a meeting with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. Students asked questions on topics from the Flint, Michigan, water crisis to mass incarceration, he said, but there was time for only a handful of students – not including him – to ask questions.

Earnest also reiterated the importance of young people voting, and he told students President Obama was excited to give a commencement address the next day at Howard University, Villalobos said.

“A lot of it was just standard things that you’d hear in a press conference,” he said.

Villalobos said he and other participants were also disappointed President Obama did not come out to speak to them as he had to students at the previous weekend’s College Reporter Day.

The Newsroom U students spent most of the rest of the weekend working on stories about issues of concern to millennials, he said. Cheers said the weekend’s theme was influenced by the importance of young voters in the upcoming presidential election.

Villalobos is most interested in broadcast reporting, but he said the program also included students with print and photography focuses. They were supposed to arrive prepared with story ideas, but he said his previous trips to Washington had been last-minute affairs, and he decided to go in cold.

“A lot of us did not go with story ideas,” he said. “I like winging it.”

Villalobos spent May 7 producing a video at the Howard University graduation, where he interviewed students about graduating with loan debt – including more than $40,000 for one student.

Later in the weekend, he and Judy Holtz, another student, collaborated on a piece about Maya Weinstein, a woman who reported being raped in college and has become a victim advocate.

Other students reported on topics ranging from race to rent prices, and Villalobos said he learned the most from a story about gentrification in Washington.

He also said interviewing Weinstein was an eye-opening experience – it was his first time interviewing a sexual assault survivor and seeing the emotions in that kind of an interview.

“That’s what I like about broadcast – it’s easier to capture the emotions,” he said.

Cheers said she hopes students came away from the program understanding the importance of multimedia in modern news, and Newsroom U wants to reward success in that regard – which is why Villalobos’ videos are the first two featured on the program’s website.

“Multimedia is the way of the future – to be able to tell a story on multiple platforms,” she said. “We need the ability to do all that cohesively.”

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