May 16, 2023
Wesley Wright wanted to bolster news media coverage of historically Black colleges and universities and nearby communities. His idea was to bypass local, traditional media and instead equip HBCU students with the tools and training they needed to take on the lofty task.
Wright, with help from a few friends and associates, transformed his vision into the ReNews Project, which gives students at HBCUs the resources to develop or restart their college publications and eventually expand coverage to surrounding communities.
The project launched in 2021, and Coppin State University in Baltimore was the first to get the ReNews treatment. In this case, it meant helping students revive the campus’ defunct newspaper, the Coppin Courier.
Wright, who also is SPJ Florida’s executive vice president, heads the ReNews Project, which also provides journalism training and access to experienced student media advisers and other resources.
The project gets assistance from several sponsors. SNO, which builds and hosts campus news sites, provides its services free for a year. Flytedesk, an ad buying platform, supplies newsracks to campuses that participate in the program.
“HBCUs are doing more with comparatively less almost as a rule,” Wright said. “A handful of these institutions produce the best student reporting, and after that, there’s a significant drop-off because of lack of student interest or training or whatever the case may be.”
While the program’s work so far has primarily focused on schools with dormant campus media, the ReNews team also plans to help schools start student media from scratch.
After connecting with Coppin State, Wright provided day-to-day advising remotely and has continued to do so. In February, his efforts helped produce the first print issue at the university in two decades. Students finished just in time for homecoming week.
“Writing articles and interviewing several individuals has been a highlight of my collegiate career,” Coppin Courier Editor-in-Chief Keylin Perez wrote in an email. She called the newspaper a treasure for the university and noted that “once the team announced the return of the paper, the alumni were filled with joy.”
Wright and ReNews Project lead coordinator Nadia Gordon went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in March, taking the ReNews Project on the road for the first time. They spent three days counseling Southern University and A&M College students on a range of topics, including techniques to use during contentious interviews, how to approach public officials for interviews and actions to take when government offices respond slowly to public records requests.
While this was the team’s first time actually visiting a university, they say it will not be the last. The success of the Southern visit ignited a search for other opportunities for ReNews to provide in-person advising.
Gordon said the initiative works better in person, when students can meet directly with the ReNews advising team. The face-to-face interaction also allows them to dig deeper into topics the student journalists bring up.
“The students enjoyed our time there and were receptive to what we had to say. They were passionate and open to learning new things,” Gordon said.
She said Southern has expressed interest in having the ReNews team return in the fall.
Many HBCUs are in places where local reporting is becoming increasingly uncommon. Wright envisions student journalists filling the void by reporting on these institutions for their campus media.
“The reality is, sometimes student reporters are the only ones in town that can even cover these schools that are so wedded to the local economy,” he said. “Solid, responsible journalism is the chief way to enhance and inform a campus, and no one is better equipped to do it than those who spend the most time there.”
For more information about the ReNews Project, send an email to email@example.com.
William Taylor is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Florida. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.