Children and Youth

Pledge of Champions helps develop young journalists

BenitoLink helps advance skills and give young writers a start
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Over the past year, BenitoLink, San Benito County's local online news source, has been building a program for young adults, giving them an opportunity to develop skills and end up with a solid portfolio.  

As a nonprofit that is growing quickly in a small county, we are always on the lookout for capable writers and photographers. The funds BenitoLink brings in during the current Pledge of Champions Donation Drive is used in part to support developing journalists. The pledge is scheduled to end Dec. 31. 

BenitoLink has struck a motherlode of capable youth in our county and the surrounding Bay Area. We have discovered dynamic young writers, video producers, graphic artists and photographers that are ready and willing to get to work. They now are doing insightful, fresh work for BenitoLink. In a short time after joining the BenitoLink team, they become both more employable and more engaged in the community.

Reporter Laura Romero, who has covered education and the San Juan Bautista City Council for our site, was raised in the county and graduated from San Benito High School. BenitoLink found about her through word of mouth and learned that she worked a few days a week in public relations up in the Bay Area. Dillon Rawlings is a graphic artist who was willing to spend several days a week in the county and get job experience. When we come across gems like Laura and Dillon, Content Director Adam Breen reviews their writing skills and sends them out in the field to give them a try. Breen is also the Technical Writing instructor at San Benito High School, where his students also write stories that are posted on our site in the Baler News section. Often, young writers just need some guidance and a little more experience in the world of journalism. 

Meet these two young BenitoLink producers, Laura and Dillon, and learn about their BenitoLink experiences:

Laura: At first I was feeling very unsure of myself, nervous and anxious. While I had experiences writing articles in college, I never had any real experiences with having my work published. Adam and Leslie were very supportive and encouraging and provided me with the push I needed to go out into the field and report on the topics that affect our county. 

Having been born and raised in Hollister, I feel a sense of pride for my town, but always felt a bit disconnected. When I moved away for college and then began commuting to work in the Bay Area, the feeling of disconnection grew. When the opportunity came to be able to report on what exactly goes on in this area, the feeling of disconnection has gone away. Not to mention, I've been able to learn a lot about San Benito County and how decisions are made. 

Just out of college, reporter and graphic artist Dillon Rawlings was working in San Francisco and was too busy trying to make a living to be able to get a start in her field, graphic art. Through a connection of friends and family, she discovered BenitoLink. Rawlings started doing a reverse commute, heading down to San Benito County for several days a week, staying with friends and starting up her career as a graphic designer.

Dillon: Working with BenitoLink helped to sharpen and develop so many new skills: journalistic writing, interviewing community members, and improving my photographic abilities. I learned how to ask the right questions and keep searching for new angles, which not only advanced the quality of my written articles, but was key to my growth as a graphic artist.

A large part of that growth is due to her practice of having to fulfill the graphic needs of many different stories and journalistic projects — such as the graphic that accompanies this story — but the other half has been the incredibly supportive and collaborative team that helps to make BenitoLink what it is. She added, All of my team members' input, constructive criticism, and sounding-board advice gave me the room and the help I needed to advance my own design aesthetics. 

Laura: I feel like I have learned a lot of new skills through my experiences at BenitoLink. I once overheard my professors talking about how students' writing skills were getting worse every year and because of the new technology, the emphasis on writing seemed to not matter so much anymore. That conversation has stuck with me ever since and I try to make it a point to not only learn new skills but to polish up the ones I already have. As far as employment goes, I have often seen how employers emphasize strong writing skills on their job descriptions. There are even some companies that require a writing test so they can evaluate your skills. With that being said, I feel confident with the skills I have acquired. 

Laura continues to work a few days a week in San Francisco for Pembroke PR, a public relations company, while reporting for BenitoLink.

Laura: Working in PR, I say I get the best of both worlds. I understand what it takes to pitch a client to a journalist and at the same time what a journalist is looking for in terms of content and what their reader wants to see. I find that the two really complement each other.

Dillon has recently been hired by KPIX in San Francisco to work weekends in the news department doing graphic art, her chosen field. She plans to continue working for BenitoLink on a freelance basis. Benitolink is proud of her achievements and happy to have helped advance her career.

Dillon: Working at the intersection of design and news with BenitoLink directly contributed to my ability to earn a graphic design contract with KPIX in San Francisco.

My experience contributing to local news through art and writing has broadened my perspectives on community and engagement. I can't thank BenitoLink enough for all the opportunities they have afforded me. Thank you, BenitoLink, for prioritizing an informed public, and your amazing youth support!

Breen, who has been a journalist for his entire professional career and has been teaching newspaper and yearbook at SBHS for 12 years,  puts time into training and assisting writers for the website. He assigns and reviews work by our paid reporters as well as members of the public just trying to get a story published. 

Supporting BenitoLink is about helping the youth of our community and we intend to expand this program. Our readers benefit from the stories young writers cover and the art they create while young writers and artists benefit by gaining skills, getting jobs and becoming engaged members of the community. The BenitoLink Pledge of Champions continues to push toward its $30,000 goal, which can be doubled with a grant from the Community Foundation for San Benito County and an individual donation, bringing the total to $60,000.

Help BenitoLink reach that goal before the year-end and offer more opportunity to young aspiring journalists in the years to come. Donate to Benitolink during the last few weeks of the Pledge of Champions, and support your community's online news source.


Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.