Preparing Diverse Students for Journalism Careers: A Club at William Paterson University Earns National Recognition

Campus Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists Provides Opportunities for Networking with the Pros

WPSPJ tours the newsroom of The Record/ in February

Rochelle Estrada '24 interviews WINS Sports Director and Anchor Marc Ernay

Rochelle Estrada ’24 wants to become a journalist after she graduates from William Paterson University, and she’s found a unique way to make connections in the news business. 

This semester, Estrada launched a podcast for William Paterson’s student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (WPSPJ), featuring original interviews with journalists from major news outlets. The podcast host, Estrada interviews the reporters she meets at WPSPJ campus events and field trips to newsrooms.

As WPSPJ vice president, Estrada benefits from opportunities that student journalists at other universities rarely receive. This semester alone, WPSPJ is shadowing a WFAN sports radio host in the Nassau Coliseum press box; running an ethics and diversity workshop with reporters from Yahoo, Business Insider, and; and hosting a panel discussion featuring journalists from USA Today and Inside Edition, among more than two dozen other events.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how people report on what’s happening in the world around me,” says Estrada, a junior who lives in Paterson, New Jersey. “I want to be able to inform and give my sources the chance to have their voices heard. WPSPJ has helped me see my true potential in being able to work as a reporter, editor, and podcaster." 

Founded in 2017, WPSPJ was named SPJ’s National Campus Chapter of the Year in 2020, beating out 95 chapters across the country, including those at universities more than triple the size of William Paterson. WPSPJ dethroned the renowned chapter at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, which had been named National Campus Chapter for four straight years.

“We want to help the aspiring journalists in our diverse student body get a head start. We’re also making a name for our journalism program on a national level against institutions with far larger programs and much more funding,” says Nicholas Hirshon, associate professor of communication and WPSPJ adviser and founder.

William Paterson University boasts one of the most diverse campuses in the region. Almost 60 percent of the student body identifies as persons of color. The University is federally recognized as both a Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) and Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). More than 40 percent of students are the first in their families to go to college.

"The news industry has always been competitive, and the barrier can seem especially high for the first-generation college students that we teach at William Paterson. WPSPJ shows student journalists there's a place for them in the newsroom,” Hirshon continues. “Our newsroom tours and guest speakers give WPSPJ members some inspiration and a foot in the door.” 

A former reporter for the New York Daily News, Professor Hirshon—a journalism historian and associate editor for the academic journal American Journalism—won SPJ’s David L. Eshelman Outstanding Campus Adviser Award in 2019 and 2021 for his work with the William Paterson chapter, making him the first two-time winner in the 45-year history of the award.

Hirshon is intentional with the slate of activities he plans for WPSPJ members, organizing events with outlets that his students hope to intern or work for someday.

“I love being a writer, reporter, and editor, and WPSPJ allows me to be involved in all forms of journalism while still in college,” Estrada says. “Being in WPSPJ has introduced me to other ways of telling a story that deliver an impact to my communities, and it makes me eager to work in any medium of the journalism industry.”

Available through popular streaming platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and Amazon Music, the WPSPJ podcast she hosts is believed to be the first podcast by a student SPJ chapter.