Brianna Sims (left to right) and Taylor Moody, of Dutchtown High school, and Lindsi Burton, of Ola High School, in Henry County, and Martunya Bails of Jonesboro High School, in Clayton County, were selected to attend Leadership Unplugged, a week-long media camp sponsored by Turner Broadcasting. The teenagers give each other a high-five for resolving a conflict with a media project they’re working on.
Students from Clayton and Henry counties are participating this week in the seventh annual “Leadership Unplugged: CNN Experience,” which gives selected high school juniors and seniors a taste of life in the media.
“[Hundreds] of students from around Georgia applied for the week-long experience, but only 75 were chosen,” said Eugene Sanders, who works in the public relations department at CNN. He added that students had to write an essay, as well as provide letters of recommendation from teachers, and then make it through the interview process.
Among the 75 selected from the competitive pool of applicants were: Clayton County resident Martunya Bails, of Jonesboro High School, and Henry County residents Lindsi Burton, of Ola High School, and Taylor Moody and Brianna Sims of Dutchtown High School.
“[This camp] is an amazing opportunity for these students to learn about the media industry,” said Susan Grant, executive vice president of CNN News Services. “My CNN colleagues and I are excited to offer these remarkable young people a platform to further develop their personal leadership skills, as well as learn more about some of the challenges facing media professionals every day.”
Sitting in a conference room on Georgia Tech’s campus Wednesday afternoon, the four teenagers took turns sharing their excitement with a Clayton News Daily reporter. And to say they seemed to be enjoying themselves, would be an understatement.
Sims said this was her second time being selected for Leadership Unplugged and each experience has been life-changing.
“We really just learn a lot,” said Sims. “There’s so much information and what happened behind the scenes at CNN.”
Moody, Bails and Burton agreed with Sims’ assessment.
“We have done a lot of networking,” said Moody, who is best friends with Sims. “I [have] met 17 people who are influential in just one day and I got to have a personal conversation with them and ask them anything I wanted to. It was really amazing.”
The curriculum for the popular program was developed by a team of CNN Student News journalists, and educators. It introduces students to the skills they need to be savvy news consumers and contributors, according to Donna Krache, executive producer of CNN Student News.
For a week, students work with CNN’s news staff, and interact in various workshops and presentations, focusing on diversity, ethics in media, and audience engagement.
“The media literacy skills they learn, combined with their exposure to CNN executives and media professionals, gives students a unique opportunity to experience journalism, and the business of media at the headquarters of the world’s news leaders,” Krache said.
In addition to working with executives and other CNN professionals, students work in teams to develop a story idea, based on the lessons they learn. On the last day, CNN officials said, students will present their project before a panel of judges made up of volunteers from various businesses and non-profits.
Each student said that being involved in this experience is giving them a different perspective on journalism, and said it is something they will take back to their high schools.
“I’ve learned that leaders don’t have to always be outspoken,” said Bails. “You can sit back and be a leader.”
“I’ve learned to pursue things and you have perseverance. You have to keep at and you don’t become a leader over night,” added Moody.
While this experience may be about learning the ins and outs of the media, Sanders said, it also gave students a feel for what it’s like to be in college. The students were able to stay in dorms on Georgia Tech’s campus, and participate in other recreational activities offered there. The young ladies agreed that was one of the many highlights of the camp.
“It’s been great we can stay up all night,” Sims said jovially. “But it’s a responsibility. We have to make sure we wake up and be down at a certain time. It really gives you a taste of the college life.”
Because of the experience, Sims said, she is now leaning toward a career in journalism. “Being at CNN, I see there are various things I could do,” she said.
Bails and Burton said, they too, could see themselves pursuing a career in journalism. Bails said she is leaning more toward writing, while Burton is considering becoming a lawyer. “I want to start journalism at my school,” said Bails. “I can see myself writing. I don’t really want to be an anchor because I don’t like talking in front of people.”
Said Burton, “They have a lawyer at CNN and when I saw that I was like, ‘OK, that’s me.’ ”