Shian James-Harden: A COVID-era journalist

By Dan Stark
Westhampton Beach High School

Prior to the pandemic, journalism wasn’t something Shian James-Harden was considering as a career. It wasn’t even one of her many interests, which include dance, law, and entrepreneurship. But after living through a year of the COVID-19 pandemic in which reporting on the disease and its political ramifications ranged from fact to totally wrong, she was inspired to investigate a career in journalism.

Writing, however, has always been one of her favorite pastimes. “When I was younger, I would go places and write about them in my journal as if I was a publisher, but I never took it seriously,” said the rising junior at Gotham Professional Arts Academy in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. 

Another interest since childhood that has propelled her toward journalism is photography. She was inspired by her father, Aziz Harden, a professional photographer, who remembered, “I would take Shian on some of my jobs where she would assist me with taking photos. I explained to her that you must tell a story when taking pictures. I believe that that was the moment Shian began her love for photojournalism.”

Like many others stuck at home during the pandemic, she watched the news frequently to stay updated. In doing that, she developed a new perspective about the news media. “It made me understand how unreliable [some] news is,” she said. “It made me think, ‘I’ve got to get reliable news.'”

During the past school year, her guidance counselor told her about the Robert W. Greene Summer Institute for High School Journalists and recommended it as an opportunity to learn more about the field. Shian was accepted as one of the 28 students from Long Island and New York City.

She hopes the Greene Institute can help her reach several goals. One is a better understanding of the role of journalism.

“I hope to learn more about why journalism is more important,” she explained. “I also want to learn the history and development of journalism.” Shian also wants to learn more about reporting, writing and photography. She hopes to use all this in order to develop her own distinct writing voice.

Above all else, Shian hopes to use what she will learn from the program to help curb media bias. “I believe in understanding everyone’s point of view to find the truth.”

The end of a fast week

Sunday afternoon feels so long ago right now…

I’m writing this from my desk feeling more tired than I did during any other point this week. My team and I have been working so hard on our packages and I’m so proud of all of us. The article that I wrote about the 2022 Democratic Primary for NY-01 is probably one of the best articles I’ve written in my short time writing articles. I conducted two interviews and went through three rounds of editing, so this is also the most work I’ve put into an article.

I’ve gotten so much out of this program this week. I’d say I’ve definitely improved my interviewing skills and have a better understanding of basic broadcast techniques that I’ll be sure to use for any videos I make soon. The professors have been great this week, and my team leader Chrissy Sampson has been very helpful and supportive in making sure my team gets things done. It’s been a great, long week that I’ll always remember.

Interviewing in a car

Today wasn’t scheduled to start ’til 11, but I started my day early with a 9 a.m. interview with Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming! Now, this may have been one of the most interesting interviews I’ve conducted as a student journalist, since I took her phone call in a parking lot in Riverhead. Yes, you read that right. But when you get an opportunity to get the interview you need, it’s all about making it work. Luckily, Legislator Fleming gave me some great answers and we had a lovely conversation! My first draft of my article is finished so now I’m working on editing. My team has been working hard and I’m quite excited to see the end result!

Congressional hopefuls offer competing visions

By Dan Stark
Westhampton Beach High School

The 2022 midterm elections are still over a year away, but many candidates have already started their campaigns. Bridget Fleming and Kara Hahn, two Suffolk County Legislators, have announced competing plans to seek the Democratic nomination in New York’s First Congressional District.

Kara Hahn (left) and Bridget Fleming (right) are running for the Democratic nomination in New York’s First Congressional District. (Photos courtesy of Hahn and Fleming campaigns)

The seat is now held by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). The district has supported both Democrats and Republicans for Congress and in presidential elections since the 1990s, but has swung rightward over the past decade. In 2020, incumbent President Donald Trump carried the district 51 percent to 47 percent over Joe Biden, while Zeldin won reelection with 55 percent of the vote. But with Zeldin leaving his seat to challenge Andrew M. Cuomo for governor of New York in 2022, Fleming and Hahn say they view his absence as an opportunity to flip the district despite its recent Republican lean.

Fleming, 61, announced her campaign on May 3. She ran for the same seat in the 2020 primary, but finished in third place behind Nancy Goroff and Perry Gershon with 27.5 percent of the vote. She said she was motivated to run by her dissatisfaction with Zeldin, claiming that “his positions don’t accurately reflect our communities.”

Fleming said she has designed her campaign to cover issues that are important to both Democratic voters and swing voters, including infrastructure reform, reducing gun violence, and expanding renewable energy usage on Long Island. In an interview this week, she referred to these as “critically important issues to our community” and said they would be her top priorities if elected to Congress. 

Fleming has served as Suffolk County’s 2nd District legislator since 2016. Her district is based on the East End and stretches from Montauk to East Moriches. Previously, she worked as an attorney in Manhattan and served on the Southampton Town Board from 2010 to 2015. 

“I’m fortunate in that I’ve had such success with my team in local offices, both with the town board and county legislature,” Fleming said.

Hahn’s campaign launched on June 2. A former social worker, she said her desire to help ease the problems of Long Island residents is her main reason for running.

If elected, healthcare would be one of her top priorities. “It’s so important that we don’t separate healthcare and mental healthcare,” she said during a press conference this week. “It’s all part of healthcare together.”

She also expressed support for fighting climate change, calling it “incredibly important, especially living here on Long Island.”

Another top priority for Hahn is voting rights. She said she is particularly dissatisfied with new, restrictive voting laws passed by states like Georgia, saying, “It’s very frustrating as an American who believes every American has the right to vote.”

Hahn, 50, represents the 5th Legislative District, which includes Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, and Setauket. She has been serving the district since 2011. She currently serves as deputy presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature and served as majority leader from 2016 to 2019. 

The date of the primary has not yet been announced by the New York State Board of Elections. The general election will be held on November 8, 2022.

The Suffolk County Democratic Party has yet to endorse a candidate, but Fleming was endorsed by Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman Rich Schaffer at her campaign launch. She has also been endorsed by Robert Calarco, the presiding officer of the Legislature. Meanwhile, Hahn has been endorsed by Goroff and by New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). 

Both legislators have acknowledged that it’s hard running against each other, but they are staying positive about it.

“This is a democratic process,” Fleming said. “Anyone who feels they want to challenge anyone in the primary is welcome to do that.”

Hahn expressed confidence in the Democrats’ chances in the 2022 general election, saying, “I believe one of us will be the next Congressperson.”

Amping it up

The heat of Greene certainly amped up today, but my team is doing great! We finalized our plan of who is doing what for our articles/video. I’ve been working on my article about the Congressional primary between Suffolk County legislators Bridget Fleming and Kara Hahn and will be working on it through the night.

I’m pretty happy with how it’s shaping up so far, but I’m very interested in getting feedback during the editing process. I was also able to schedule a phone interview with Bridget Fleming for tomorrow! I’m super excited to interview her. A work-packed day for sure!

Day 2: Interviewing Kara Hahn!

As someone wanting to pursue political journalism, today was an important day for me. Today, my team got to interview Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. It was the first time I got to interview someone who holds political office.

During the interview, I picked up on the skill to change the questions I asked to fit the direction of the interview. I could tell that Legislator Hahn cared a lot about the issues she spoke about, specifically the opioid crisis. It was an experience that will surely stand as a highlight of this program for me.

A great start at Greene

Today marked the start of the much anticipated Greene Institute and it started off great! Stephanie Brumsey’s opening talk was insightful and inspiring to an aspiring young journalist like myself. I specifically enjoyed her discussion about the perception of media bias.

Later in the day, I met with my team for the first time. We came up with some great ideas about the Kara Hahn story and various angles to take with it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes out at the end of the week. Overall, a great first day!