New Institute Leadership Brings an Older Group to New York City

A toddler’s squeal of longing emanated from Jasmin Flores’s cellphone on Tuesday evening, her fourth day at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute.

Her 2-year-old son was calling from 190 miles away in Laurel, Md., to demand she come home, so Mrs. Flores strode out of the newsroom to video chat with him.

“Hi, papi,” Mrs. Flores, 27, cooed to him over the phone while smiling at the screen.

Mrs. Flores, a video journalist, had just finished a shoot. She is a first-year graduate student at George Washington University and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.

“It feels like this is real life,” said Mrs. Flores about the institute, her work-life balance and her different journalistic experiences. “Sometimes when I’m doing this, I realize I don’t eat — and I don’t even feel hungry until the story is finished or I’m no longer with my character. I’m just like, ‘Oh, snap, I didn’t eat today. ’”

Jasmin Flores, a video journalist, photographs the institute's managing editor, Chuck Strum. At 27, Jamin has started a family. Aileen Perilla/NYT Institute

Mrs. Flores’s age and the fact she has already started a family reflects the increasingly older class this year at the institute, a two-week journalism boot camp for students who are members of the National Association of Black Journalists or the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, or who attend historically black colleges and universities. This year’s class has 25 students.

Most of the students have completed their undergraduate college careers — two are graduating during the institute — and four have completed graduate school, while four more are still in graduate schools. Last year’s class had only four graduate school students.

The older class was an unintended result of a decision by the institute’s director, John Haskins, who is in his first year leading the program.

He decided to select students based on their maturity in writing and thinking — not just by their résumé qualifications. He called this determining factor his “new thing” and said it helped measure a student’s readiness for the program.

“I realized, yeah, they skewed a little bit older, but older isn’t the right word, ” Mr. Haskins said while frowning and offering alternative ways to pinpoint the nature of this group. “Further along their academic career. I don’t want to say age, I don’t want to say maturity. I want to say, ready.”

Mariah Brown, a reporter for the institute, interviews Roderick Jones of Life Camp for a story about the organization's anti-violence efforts. Aileen Perilla/NYT Institute

J. Gabriel Ware, who at age 28 is one of the older members of the group, would have already completed his master’s degree in communications at Western Michigan University last year if not for the institute. He took a semester off from school after he was rejected for the institute’s 2017 class.

It was, he said, a wakeup call that he needed more experience. So he spent six months interning at Yes! Magazine, based in Bainbridge Island, Wash., which focuses on highlighting solutions to social issues. It is the kind of journalism he wants to do.

“My first story here is reporting on residents who are building their own internet, who are building their own storm-ready internet,” Mr. Ware said. “This program is a solution — you know, it’s not the solution to the hurricane — but it’s a solution to help keep the communication going on within their neighbors in their community.”

Mr. Ware’s path to journalism was halting. He barely graduated high school, he said, and had to go to summer school to receive his diploma. Later, he worked at the Detroit Lions stadium in his hometown.

When he decided to go to college five years after high school, he attended community college to boost his grades — he pulled a 4.0 there — before enrolling in Western Michigan University. He graduated with the highest distinction.

Other students at the institute, however, took more traditional routes and are younger.

Annie Aguiar, 19, a designer, just finished her first year at Indiana University. Janaya Greene, a 22-year-old reporter, just graduated from Ohio State University. And Johnny Flores Jr., a 20-year-old copy editor, is a rising senior at the University of Southern California.

Diamond Naga Siu, right, during an interview on a rooftop in Queens. She studied immigration and public policy at New York University. Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech/NYT Institute

But regardless of age or experience, the 25 students will all attend workshops together, publish a print newspaper and post their work online and on social media.

“Being in this realm and in this career, I love it,” Mrs. Flores, a former Army photojournalist, said. “And so when I’m leaving my son, I don’t feel as guilty as I did when I was in the military — not really being able to tell the stories that I wanted to tell.”

Mrs. Flores received a Bachelor of Science and Communications from the University of Miami in 2013, but she always wanted to return to school to study photojournalism.

After being stationed around the world with her husband during the three and a half years she served in the Army, she decided in 2017 it was time to go back to school. Her son had been born two years earlier, so she moved back home to Washington, D.C., to study new media photojournalism at George Washington University.

“No matter if I’m tired — I’m really tired right now — I just feel like it’s O.K.,” Mrs. Flores said with a chuckle while shaking her head. “I am where I’m supposed to be at this moment.“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m really ready.”

NOTE: This article was updated to correct the birthdate of Jasmin Flores’s son. He was born in 2015, not 2017. It also corrects the number of years J. Gabriel Ware took between high school and college. It is five years, not three.