Journalism major awarded coveted internship

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During past summers, Virginia Commonwealth University journalism major Matt Leonard has worked as a raft guide in Richmond and in his home state of North Carolina. He sees parallels between that job and his intended profession.

"One of the most important qualifications for both a raft guide and a journalist is the ability to earn trust," said Leonard, who grew up in Sylva, North Carolina, and graduated from Smoky Mountain High School. "The passengers in a raft have to trust they're in safe hands, while readers of an article have to trust they're reading honest work."

During the coming summer, Leonard will trade a fast-moving river for a fast-paced newsroom: He has been awarded a prestigious Dow Jones News Fund internship to work as a digital journalist at The Denver Post. It's a coveted opportunity that may carry him into his career after he graduates in December from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

"My career plan is to go into print or online journalism," said Leonard, who will turn 22 this month. "I want to write stories that help readers better understand the community they live in and hold people in power accountable. The digital internship with the DJNF is a step in that direction.

"As news outlets move from print to Web, I need to be prepared for the transition. This will be an important part of preparing for and continuing that transition. While at The Denver Post, I hope to acquire skills that will improve my storytelling ability, my computer capabilities and the ability to bring readers to a story."

As news outlets move from print to Web, I need to be prepared for the transition. This will be an important part of preparing for and continuing that transition.

More than 600 undergraduate and graduate students applied for 2015 DJNF internships; 92 were selected. They will work as business reporters, digital journalists and news and sports copy editors at 56 of the nation's leading news organizations, from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to AccuWeather and

Leonard was the only college journalist selected from a Virginia college or university. This is the third year in a row that a VCU student has been awarded a DJNF internship.

"This summer's strong and dynamic internship program is testimony to the News Fund's vital role in preparing the next generation of professional journalists for work in the digital age that is reshaping news media," said DJNF President Richard Levine.

Added Linda Shockley, the fund's managing director: "Media need skilled multiplatform journalists more than ever, and students need the experience and the added grounding fund pre-internship training provides. We value our media partners' investment in the future by participating in our programs."

Leonard already has a lot of experience: He has interned at RVA Magazine, and WTVR CBS 6; covered the General Assembly for VCU's Capital News Service; and served as online news editor in 2014-15 for The Commonwealth Times, VCU's award-winning student newspaper. Leonard will be managing editor of the CT this fall.

Leonard will attend a one-week training session at Arizona State University this month. He then will move to Denver for his 10-week paid internship. (As part of the Dow Jones program, he also will receive a $1,000 scholarship.)

"I know I will be working with the digital team, but I have not been given a job description or list of duties. I assume it could be anything from web production, to writing, to preparing infographics," Leonard said. "Whatever is expected of me, I look forward to working alongside and learning from an award-winning staff at The Denver Post."

Leonard transferred to VCU after attending Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and the University of Virginia's College at Wise, where he worked for the campus newspaper, The Highland Cavalier.

At first, he thought about going into the music business.

"I play bass, but not well enough to make a career out of it. Music was all I thought about in high school, so I thought I'd make a career out of it," Leonard said. "When I first got to college in Nashville, I was positive I'd be working for an artist management company when I graduated."

But then he got involved in journalism — and that resonated with his desire to have an impact on society.

"A strong curiosity and a desire to find the truth have given me a passion for the field of journalism. It is important to inform the community, and I want to be a part of that," Leonard said. "The Fourth Estate has a responsibility to keep a check on the powers that be in our society, a responsibility to write the first draft of history, a responsibility I know I can shoulder."


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