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Meet Our New Korva Coleman Diversity Intern, Katelynn McIlwain

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KMUW
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Katelynn at work in the studio.

Katelynn McIlwain has joined the KMUW newsroom for the summer as our Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism intern.

Katelynn is our second Korva Coleman intern, but the first to join us in-person. Our first intern, Hafsa Quraishi, had to do her internship remotely last summer because of the pandemic. After graduating from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in December, Hafsa is in the middle of a year-long fellowship at WBUR in Boston.

Katelynn will be a senior at the University of Missouri in the fall, where she is majoring in journalism and getting a minor in digital storytelling.

The youngest of three children, she is from Freeport, Illinois.

The internship is a collaboration between KMUW and Korva Coleman, an NPR newscaster. It is designed to train college students of color to be part of the next generation of public radio reporters and newscasters.

As part of the internship, Korva provides mentoring to the students.

KMUW talked with Katelynn about her start in journalism, her love of storytelling, her interests outside of work and her career goals.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

KMUW: What has led you to this path to pursue journalism?

KATELYNN: I always loved reading, writing, all throughout my childhood and going into high school as well. And at first I didn't really care for nonfiction storytelling. I thought that the best storytellers had to write fiction and there was no other way to tell a good story.

But I was introduced to creative nonfiction in my creative writing class in high school. And I also got into documentaries and started listening to NPR and realized that some of the most beautiful stories that we'll encounter are real, and the ordinary people in our lives have amazing stories to tell. And it's a privilege to be able to meet those people and tell those stories and just be connected to the world through storytelling.

So that's what got me into journalism. I'm not a huge news nerd. The most things I follow religiously are arts, entertainment, pop culture. But it's the people that draw me to journalism, being able to learn about different lifestyles and enrich my own life that way.

So that sounds like a perfect recipe for public media then, those types of storytelling.

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I feel like storytelling and journalism, if it doesn't help the ordinary people driving around, what's the point of it? I think that my draw to public radio comes from that desire to be of service to the people; listening and to tell the stories that matter to them, with no obligation to pander or cater to some private enterprise or something. It's fueled by the people, and that's right up my alley. Talk about your journalism experience before you got to KMUW.

When I was a sophomore in high school, that's kind of when I really was like, ‘OK, journalism. I really want to try this out.’ And so funny enough, there was no newspaper at the school at the time. There used to be one, but I guess eventually not enough people were taking it. And so I looked through our course catalog, and I saw it listed there, and I was asking around about it and everyone was saying, ‘Oh yeah, we used to have a paper, but no one signs up to take it.’

And so I took to social media and talked to my friends and I convinced enough people to take the class so that I could do it. So junior year, there was a newspaper again.

What was the name of your high school paper?

“Pretz News,” short for Pretzel News. 'Cause that's our high school mascot: the Freeport Pretzels. Born and raised, and proud of it.

I know it's early in your career, but do you have a favorite story that you've written and reported?

I actually have one that's going to be published next month (that) … I would say it's my favorite. It's a story about a group in Columbia called the Community Remembrance Project of Boone County. The Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama has started sponsoring community remembrance projects all over the country, basically to help local communities remember racial terror that happened in those communities. And one started up in Boone County where I go to school at Mizzou, and there are three recorded … lynchings in Boone County. And their goal is to host soil collection ceremonies to memorialize those men that were lynched.

And so I got to talk to several members and went to their first soil collection ceremony in March for a man who was a janitor for the university who was lynched in 1923. Unfortunately a week after I attended the ceremony, the memorial plaque that kind of marks where he was lynched was vandalized.

And so one of the sources I spoke with said this is just another example of how racial terror continues to exist in this country. This is why we need to remember and contextualize the cities that we've built … where racial terror maybe has been forgotten.

So I think that's one of my favorite features I've been able to write, just exploring, ‘OK, why are we remembering this? Why does this matter?’ in the current resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

You've already had some conversations with Korva Coleman. … How have those early conversations gone?

They’re so rich already. I feel like every time I speak with her, she offers so much advice and guidance without coming down or anything like that. I mean, she has so much experience and (is) … just so in touch with the world. She imparts that onto you without feeling, like, overbearing … it's awesome.

She is so encouraging of everything I'm doing, and I don't feel like I deserve any of that praise whatsoever, coming from her at least. But it's been great, and she really cares about, like, even my mental and emotional wellbeing with how crazy this past year has been. And she's just always concerned about, 'How are you doing? Like, how are you actually doing,' you know? And even though she's not here in Wichita, she is committed to supporting me throughout this entire thing.

I absolutely look forward to every time we get to talk.

What are your career goals?

There are so many things. And it's hard because I feel like nowadays .. it's more common for people in my generation to change careers quite a bit. So in the spirit of being a young Gen Z person who can take advantage of a lot of options during my lifetime, I would love to work for NPR. I don't have an attachment to any specific place per se. … I think entertainment, pop culture, art, music, film, TV, all of that is what I feel super passionate and knowledgeable about. So being … able to be like a commentator or a podcaster or just a journalist who's able to focus just on arts and culture … for NPR would be so cool. As long as I'm able to tell stories for people about people, I'm happy.

I'd love to continue freelancing or writing for magazines and stuff 'cause the long form, creative writing is something I enjoy a lot. But I also like to talk and so doing a morning show with someone, cause I love waking up early in the morning, would be super fun.

One of my super-duper dream jobs, I don't know how this would ever happen, but I'm really interested in helping to like produce a movie or something like that. I'm very passionate about making sure that minority characters are represented in our creative media. So if we're having a Game of Thrones story, for example, why are there dragons, but not a single Black person? Is it that far beyond the imagination to have like a person of color in a leading role for a blockbuster film that isn't just about being Black in the hood? Can we stretch our imagination farther than that? I hope we can.

Then also clearly I'm speaking into a microphone right now, but I really like voiceover work, voice acting, that type of thing. So I would love to … do something like that. Some of my favorite people that I follow on Twitter are the voices for some of the cartoons and animation that I watch. So that would also be really fun.

What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

I'm keeping up with K-pop groups and the new albums that are dropping. I'm watching anime, cartoons, film, other TV. I like to write and make videos about those things. … I like to read.

I'm part of a church. … We're called the International Churches of Christ, and that's my family. I love being able to be a part of that.

The pandemic has given me a newfound appreciation for nature. So I really like to go on walks in parks and things like that. I love dogs.

I'm a foodie, so I love trying new restaurants, especially ice cream. … I love ice cream.

First time to Wichita, I assume. What's your early impression of the city so far?

It's the biggest city I've ever lived in, and I love how eclectic it is in a lot of different areas. There's so many different restaurants; I'm not used to that.

I know Wichita isn't, like, in the Flint Hills, but I was driving through the Flint Hills (and) I was in love. I’ve never seen that much green grass stretching forever and so many … little cows. It was really cool. I think being able to be here in Wichita after the … height of the pandemic is really cool. I'm getting to experience it the way that it would have been before COVID to some degree. So that's really fun.