Katina Paron is a champion for young journalists. She has spent her entire career working to increase their access to journalistic education, to stand up for their rights as journalists and to get their voices heard.
Her passion is obvious when she becomes more energetic while she talks about student journalism. It’s more than a 9-5 job for her, it’s her life’s work. She believes in not talking down to them and meeting them where they are.
You may know Katina from her book, A Newshound’s Guide to Student Journalism. Or you may know her as a professor at Hunter College where she teaches Neighborhood News. She has also taught at Baruch College.
She runs her news class at Hunter like a student newsroom. The young journalists pitch stories to her like she’s an editor, and report like any other journalist. It covers race, subjectivity, bias and the value of community news in the process.
Katina says,“I love the curiosity and willingness to learn that I’ve seen in a majority of Hunter students that I’ve worked with.”
One of her students, Seon Pollard, says, “Every day I would be impressed with her dedication to journalism…She’s constantly giving us really good feedback on the work that we do….She’s very open and willing to assist you with [anything related to journalism].”
You may have seen her curly black hair and wide smile on social media. She tweets at young journalists. She gives tips and tricks that help them improve their writing.
Katina knows that not all students at Hunter are dealing with the same responsibilities and challenges outside of school. She says she can’t make different rules for everyone, but she does her best to help them succeed. She knows that kids can be dealing with a range of experiences.
Her father died when she was 10 years old. She didn’t know how it would change things, how it would form her as a person.
She says, “I didn’t really know what was going on….I can’t figure out how it changed who I am. It just made me who I am.”
Because of that trauma, her biggest fear in life is her husband dying. That experience also led her to value a “community of welcoming” in her home, which was fostered by her big family growing up.
Her grandmother, aunt and cousins shared every holiday with Katina, her mom and her sisters. They rarely played sports, but they would go outside and play baseball or another sport on Easter. That’s why it’s her favorite holiday.
She’s been hosting her own Easter party for 22 years. Hosting is one of her favorite activities. She loves making people feel like she wants to see them. She learned that trait when her aunt and grandmother came over when she was a kid. She had wanted to make the visits seem exciting.
A running joke in her family is that she’s the “white sheep”. Some of the saddest moments in her life were watching her nieces and nephews struggle with dependencies or with bad relationships.
It simultaneously saddens and empowers her to realize she’s only in charge of her small section of the world.
Katina has known since she was a child that journalism is what she wanted to do. She started out as a poet in middle school. But she didn’t feel she was good enough to make a living from it. So she turned to journalism.
The magazines her mother received, Family Circle and Women’s Day, were her two connections to journalism as a kid. She didn’t have any role models in that field. Since her mother was a homemaker, she didn’t even have an example of a working professional.
In high school Katina spent most of her time working as a babysitter. If she got any free time, she spent it reading. She had a small but tight group of friends. She thought they were boring: her friends were the kinds of kids who keep you out of trouble.
But she says, “they probably saved me and kept me from a lot of bad decisions without me knowing it.”
She remains friends with them to this day.
After high school Katina was accepted to Boston University, which was a dream come true for her. It was exactly the type of environment she was looking for. She didn’t want to be on a campus.
She says, “Campuses kinda weird me out, they seem so fake and safe. I wanted to be in the middle of the city, in them middle of the action…I didn’t understand how you’re going to get a real-world education in a place that felt pretend.”
She didn’t feel there were many opportunities growing up where she did in Michigan. She didn’t want to be on the edges. Katina remembers getting her first job in journalism and being excited by bringing her prepared lunch and by her morning commute.
She started her journalism career at a publication called Teen Voices, a teen-to-teen magazine.
Katina says that at Teen Voices, “I realized not only how validating it is for young people to have their voices heard and read and acknowledged, but also that experience of helping young people create journalism was really something that I enjoyed and I wanted to be good at.”
The thread of youth journalism has been a continuous feature in her life.
Her previous co-worker, Cliff Hahn, says she’s had a, “life-long career devoted to youth voices, and helping young people develop their unique voice and craft for expressing it.”
She worked for Children’s Express, a publication that’s won Peabody awards. Again her work focused on youth journalism. From there she moved onto teaching at Baruch College where she enjoyed being the catalyst for students to accomplish professional-level journalism. She then worked at jGirls where she gave monthly trainings to a teen editorial board for an online magazine for Jewish teen girls.
Later she worked for The Trace. Katina’s students there got several awards for their project, “Since Parkland”, a piece of reportage about the young people who have died from gun violence in the year since the Parkland shootings.
These awards included: the 2020 New York Press Club, Special Event Reporting Online Award; the 2020 Society for Features Journalism, Digital Innovation & Feature Project Award; the 2019 Global Youth & News Media Award; and the 2019 Online Journalism Award for Pro-Am Journalism.
Katina says it was, “the most important piece of journalism I’ll ever do…[Each award] wasn’t a pat on the head because they were kids, it was awarding them on the quality of professional journalism that they had done.”
She then worked for InsideClimate News where she helped young journalists express their concerns for the state of the environment. After that she worked for Dateline: CUNY, a project where undergraduate journalists publish news and features.
Recently she worked at Ms. Magazine where she taught teen journalists through the editing process.
“They’re getting a college course through Google Notes,” she says. “I showed them how to make their work better rather than just identified what they did wrong…I was reinforcing those rules of journalism. Journalism has rules, and being able to rely on those rules is important to me, and it’s what makes journalism journalism.”
Katina has been advocating for the New Voices Law for the past three years. It’s a nonpartisan grassroots movement aiming to protect freedom of the press for student and teen journalists. Sponsored in New York by State Senator Brian Kavanagh, the law seeks to supplant the 1988 Supreme Court decision that a student newspaper could be censored by school faculty. Katina believes high school journalists deserve the same rights as adults.
Katina spends her time enjoying the neighborhood where she’s been for 21 years. She likes that it’s safe, beautiful and that people keep to themselves. But if she needs anything, there are people to whom she can go. Being able to have a backyard and have people come over is wonderful to her. Being able to work on a separate floor from her husband is also a big benefit.
She starts her day with coffee and the New York Times. She has breakfast. Some days she works out first thing in the morning. Other days she’ll save her workout for later in the day. She spends the rest of the day at her computer writing, researching and taking calls. Since the pandemic started she’s having dinner much earlier.
She’s also a weight lifter, which became her hobby when she decided yoga wasn’t doing what she wanted it to do to her body. She enjoys making bread and she gives bread to people on their birthdays. When she’s writing she might be running back and forth to her bread-maker.
Youth journalism is still the biggest part of her life.
These days she produces programming for teen journalists at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. She also continues to teach at Hunter College.
“Mostly, she always impressed me with her work ethic, editing stories late into the night or weekends when I would have given up, or passed out hours earlier. Just an ability to get her teeth into a project and not let go until it’s finished [is impressive],” says Hahn.
When Katina sits down to write something she procrastinates a fair amount. She gets a lot of teas and snacks. She also needs all the little things on her to-do list to be out of the way.
She lets her work ferment in her head while she’s doing other things, before she’s ready to write it out. She often processes while she’s talking or writing.
“I don’t know what I’m going to write until I sit down and it actually comes up,” she says.
That’s what it was like for her while writing her book. The pressure of the many blank pages got her writing.
She says of writing Newshound’s Guide, “That complete cleanse of your brain on one topic is exhausting.”
The book was the most momentous event in her life so far. She cried tears of happiness and felt exhausted at the release party.
She says, “When the book showed up at my house I didn’t open the box for a week…because it meant so much to me and represented so much.”
Her parting advice for young journalists?
“Keep writing, get the work out there.“