College Corner: Original YMG student Erin Burnett aims to be major player in broadcast news; ‘It was what I have been put on Earth to do’

By Aileen Delgado

Erin Burnett, 20, is a sophomore at the University of Maryland College Park studying Broadcast Journalism, and was among the 20 students who formed the first Youthcast Media Group (then Urban Health Media Project) class in 2017.

Erin Burnett, part of Youthcast Media Group’s inaugural class, is now a sophomore in college and a fellow for the Emma Bowen Foundation, which awarded her a paid four-year summer internship at WBAL-TV in Baltimore. Photo courtesy of Erin Burnett

She was a freshman at Mercy High School in Baltimore, and in one of two groups of 10 students who met on Saturdays for 10 months. While the Washington, D.C., students met at Howard University, Burnett worked with other Baltimore students at Morgan State University to produce a final project on teen mental health and social media use alongside several articles and videos.

Her time with YMG became a springboard for a host of journalism experiences. Now a staff writer for The Black Explosion, UMD’s only historically Black newspaper, Burnett participated in the Dow Jones News Fund Digital Media Program in 2021 and attended an intensive weeklong training on social media and other digital storytelling techniques. She is a fellow for the Emma Bowen Foundation, which awarded her a paid four-year summer internship at WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

On YMG’s fifth anniversary, Burnett talked to current intern Aileen Delgado to reflect on how her time with the organization has impacted her life and career path. Their conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

What was it like being in the first YMG group?

My group actually was the guinea pig. The idea of the Kellogg Foundation, Morgan State University, and Howard University working together to create this new organization with (co-founder) Jayne (O’Donnell) was exciting.

I remember going to the opening event and we were so excited.

What did you report on?

The major story published in USA TODAY was about teenage mental health and social media and the correlation between the two. I remember very vividly our final ceremony where we presented our final projects and the story that got published in USA TODAY.

What skills did you gain from working at YMG (then UHMP)?

I've always wanted to be a broadcast journalist since I was in the fourth grade.

At UHMP I started learning so many key videography skills that put me ahead of my peers because I knew what B-roll was, I knew A-roll was, I knew what medium and wide shots were.

How did your experience working with us play into your Emma Bowen fellowship?

UHMP was very, very crucial and valuable to me even getting into Emma Bowen. It’s open to seniors in high school through seniors in college, but I didn't really realize how competitive it was until after I got in as a freshman. To compete against them at my age and get into a program with such a prestigious organization, I really credit UHMP.

In the interview process, I had to submit work, like writing samples, which I had because of UHMP – things like my work published in USA TODAY. That's very impressive for a senior in high school to have. I applied for the content side so I could get internships as a reporter at news stations.

I heard back from them like a week before my birthday, and I was literally sobbing and crying because it just felt like a dream come true, like a movie.

What advice would you give other students who are thinking about working with YMG?

Erin Burnett and fellow inaugural YMG class member Asha Davis completed a project on the effects of social media on the mental health of teens. Photo courtesy of Erin Burnett

Do it. Definitely do it. Jayne and all the people she's always bringing on are very, very helpful, and very valuable people to add to your network. And in the experience, be patient with yourself in learning all of these skills. Try everything. They allow you to go and try a lot of new things for the first time, which is amazing. And say thank you and connect with everyone you meet.

Other than your Broadcast Journalism major, are you studying anything else?

My minor is in Technology Entrepreneurship. I'm also very interested in technology. One of my major goals is to have my own media organization that's a global thing similar to CNN, but expands beyond news and into the entertainment sector and goes into tech.

Any exciting plans on the horizon?

Next spring I’m going to London to study abroad. I am also hoping to get an internship so I can get international correspondent experience.

Why are you so passionate about journalism?

I really feel like it was what I've been put on Earth to do. My main two goals in this life are to connect people and to inspire others. News and media have the potential to do both. I've always loved the idea that television news can inspire people. I can see Lester Holt on "NBC Nightly News" and connect with him through a camera and connect with whoever he’s telling the story about, without even meeting them, or being in the same place with them, in seconds. And that's what I want to be able to do.