Jackie Majerus stands Thursday on her front porch in Auburn. Majerus has won an international award for her work with Youth Journalism International, an organization she helped establish, working with students internationally and educating them about journalism. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Jackie Majerus runs the nonprofit Youth Journalism International out of her Auburn home, a place that has welcomed many of the organization’s international members who have journeyed there just to meet her and her husband, both of whom established the organization that has reached so many young people around the world.

She operates the 501(c)(3) organization with her husband, Steve Collins, who is a reporter for the Sun Journal.

Global Youth and News Media, a nonprofit organization based in France that works to strengthen the connection between young people and news media, issued Majerus its Gold Educator Award.

The award recognizes Majerus’ work with young people across the globe to raise awareness of press freedom, teach them about the role of journalism in civic society and educate them about the dangers journalists face.

The organization has worked with young people from ages 12 to 24 in roughly 56 countries around the world — many of which are dangerous places for journalists and aspiring journalists to report in, Majerus said.

Majerus first started working with young people in journalism while she was working for a Connecticut newspaper in 1994. She worked with local teens to help them publish stories and content on subjects impacting them. A couple of years later, the organization created its own website and started publishing student stories on the internet, according to Majerus.


Since 2011 she has been working as a full-time volunteer for the organization, never receiving a paycheck, she said.

Though it cannot accept all of the young people applying for spots in its organization, it does not charge those who are accepted, which is one of its most significant policies, she said. “We’d miss a lot of great people if we didn’t have that policy.”

Many of the young people she works with do not come from democratic countries or areas with robust news media coverage, so the organization helps teach them about the importance of having news coverage, she said. She also teaches them about democracy and how to stay safe while reporting in dangerous areas.

“There is no story that is worth them getting hurt,” she said. “There’s no picture that’s worth that. They’re young, they have their whole lives ahead of them, they should have their whole lives ahead of them. I don’t want them to take unnecessary risks.”

Some of the young people are the only ones covering news in their community, so the organization also helps raise awareness about serious issues going on in small communities nationally, she said. One young person wrote about a massacre that happened in a small African village where many people died and they were the only one who provided in-depth coverage of the incident on an international level.

Young people are taught journalistic ethics and are beholden to those ethics, she said. There have been only a few young people to published content without their names due to serious safety concerns in countries such as Russia, Syria and Burma, she said.


Some of the organization’s alumni have gone on to study at prestigious institutes and receive awards and recognitions, she said. Three of its former members are Fulbright Scholars. Many have had stories published in internationally recognizable news media outlets.

Though many of the organization’s young people do not go on to pursue a career in journalism, their experiences and education through Youth Journalism International help them better understand their culture, gain confidence, improve their English, widen their world view and become more savvy news consumers, she said.

Joe Killian is an organization alumnus who did pursue a career in journalism. He is now an investigative reporter in North Carolina working for NC Newsline. He became involved with Youth Journalism International in the organization’s early days as a student in Bristol, Connecticut, publishing reviews, opinion pieces, news stories and some investigative work, he said in an email to the Sun Journal.

After 20 years in the news media industry, most of what he knows about journalism he first learned through Youth Journalism International, he said. He passes on those lessons he learned from Majerus and her husband to young interns in his newsroom.

Some of those lessons include being a human first to build connections with people, owning mistakes and then working hard not to repeat them. He’s also learned to try to avoid working too much, to prevent burnout. “Journalism will take everything you’re willing to give it, so you have to be careful how much you give it.”

His relationship with Majerus goes deeper than the student/mentor dynamic, he said. She became a friend who made him feel like a part of her family. He still reaches out to her for advice and to share work stories he thinks she will appreciate.

Many of the students in the organization consider it to be a family and refer to Majerus as “journalism mom,” Majerus said. Depending on where the young people come from and their personal situation, participants can become very bonded with her. She feels lucky to have the organization’s young people in her life.

“We remain so close to very many of them, it’s sort of like staying in touch with your kid,” she said. “… Some of them really do become, like, your kids, depending on their own circumstances and situation. Some of them just need a journalist, just need a mentor, and that’s great. And then some of them need more personal support, or they want it.”

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