Journalism Students Cover the Capitol and State Issues

Four journalism students had internships covering the comings and goings affecting Connecticut this spring

Journalism students left to right: Ally LeMaster ’24 (CLAS), Izetta Asikainen ’24 (CLAS), Coral Aponte ’24 (CLAS), Luke Feeney ’24 (CLAS).

UConn journalism students who covered news at the state Capitol this spring, from left to right: Ally LeMaster ’24 (CLAS), Izetta Asikainen ’24 (CLAS), Coral Aponte ’24 (CLAS), and Luke Feeney ’24 (CLAS). (Heather Borton / UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Photo)

The recently completed session of the Connecticut General Assembly was full of the usual late-night meetings, last-minute negotiations, and eventually, the final gavel.

It was the perfect atmosphere for four UConn journalism students who had internships covering the comings and goings at the State Capitol and other issues affecting Connecticut.

Ally LeMaster ’24 (CLAS), a journalism and English major from Hartford, and Luke Feeney ’24 (CLAS), a journalism and political science major, both did internships for The Connecticut Mirror. Coral Aponte ’24 (CLAS), a journalism major from Tolland, and Izetta Asikainen ’24 (CLAS), a journalism and political science major from Eastford, worked for CTNewsJunkie.

The two outlets are online news sites that are free to readers and rely on public donations for support. They are both examples of the newest model of media companies that cover state and local politics.

The internships gave the students academic credit, which allowed them the necessary time to thoroughly cover the stories that were assigned to them.

UConn associate professor of journalism Marie Shanahan ’94 (CLAS), who heads the journalism department, and associate professor-in-residence Julie Serkosky ’90 (CLAS) developed the internships with the two outlets.

“Our plan is to grow our relationships with these news partners in Hartford and offer competitive legislative reporting internships to a few journalism majors every spring,” says Shanahan. “The internships fulfilled two important goals for the Department of Journalism – our students obtained practical professional journalism experience, and their reporting helped to bolster news coverage in Connecticut.”

Serkosky coordinated with the two local news organizations throughout the spring semester and oversaw the students’ work for credit.

“It was very successful, and our UConn interns really got good experience,” says Beth Hamilton ‘89 (CLAS), executive editor of CT Mirror. “Our interns had mentors from my staff and had a chance to work with other reporters to collaborate on stories and do their own work as well. We wanted to give them the opportunity to cover as many different topics as possible, so we didn’t assign them just one area. We wanted to leave it open ended and send them anywhere, so they could write as much as possible.”

Aponte and Asikainen learned and worked for CTNewsJunkie publisher and UConn journalism grad Doug Hardy ’91 (CLAS).

The four interns spent days-and nights-covering the legislature, which meant conducting interviews in both formal and informal settings, sometimes stopping lawmakers as they made their way from one meeting to another.

“It was very scary at first, because you are told to just go up to representatives and senators and start asking questions,” says LeMaster. “You are thinking at first that you are just a college kid and then you get it in your head that you are representing the public and you are supposed to be here. You get used to it and start to understand the entire process and are not scared to ask questions.”

LeMaster says one of her favorite stories she worked on this semester was about the increasing time it takes for wheelchairs to be repaired in Connecticut and proposed legislations to change that.

“I remember walking around the Capitol with Ally early on and we just looked at each other and thought ‘no’,” says Feeney. “There was definitely a level of intimidation, especially the first one or two weeks. But, once you write a few stories and talk to people it became a lot more natural. I found that I became very comfortable interacting with governmental leaders and going to committee meetings.”

Feeney says his most memorable story was covering a press conference that dealt with support for Connecticut’s LGBTQ+ students.

Asikainen covered the case of state Rep. Maryam Khan, who was rescued after an attack in June 2023 as she was leaving a prayer service at the XL Center in Hartford. That good Samaritan, Jason Spencer, later faced criminal charges for his actions. Khan testified in court in defense of Spencer, and Asikainen covered the story.

“I had never been in court before and now I was there for a long time and learned how a lot of things work,” says Asikainen.

Aponte covered issues like a bill on disconnected youth and substance-free housing at public universities.

“It as a great experience,” says Aponte. “I’ve been able to talk to a multitude of different people and it’s been amazing. I didn’t think I would ever want to get into the politics sector, but it’s been very interesting to see how everything works.”

The internships have helped the four UConn students concentrate a bit more on their career tracks.

“I knew I always wanted to be a journalist, but after doing some health care stories, that is the area I would like to concentrate my reporting on,” says LeMaster. “I would love to do more investigative work for a large outlet.”