Joe Santana, a junior mass communication major at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, gained valuable professional experience over the summer as he completed the first Charlotte Schexnayder Journalism Internship sponsored in by Arkansas Press Women. 

Santana, a graduate of Dumas High School, was one of four college students selected for the Arkansas Newspaper Foundation’s Summer Internship Program. He worked as a reporter and photographer for The Dumas Clarion over the summer. 

“Mr. Rick Wright, the publisher, knew me from around town for my photography after I replied to an article where he was looking for a part-time photographer,” Santana said. “I started taking pictures during my senior year of high school in 2020, which was the height of COVID. When we were out of school, I picked up my camera that I had originally bought for YouTube videos and started taking my friends’ senior portraits. That’s how I got started.”

During his internship, Santana did everything from administrative duties and selling advertising to writing stories and taking photographs.

“I traveled around with my co-worker, Linna Jones, the journalist of Dumas,” Santana said. “I went with her to cover town meetings and write feature stories. She showed me the ropes of how to be a journalist. The internship really showed me how to appreciate newspapers.”

His favorite assignment of the summer was a Flag Day story on the importance of maintaining flags.

“A veteran in Dumas had noticed a lot of torn up flags around town, and he really wanted us to tell people how to take care of flags properly,” he said.

The Arkansas Newspaper Foundation supports Arkansas newspapers by helping fund summer interns at Arkansas Press Association member newspapers across the state. The paid internship is designed to help aspiring college-age journalists get started in their newspaper careers.

“Joe was a great summer intern, and we enjoyed having him at the Dumas Clarion,” Wright said. “Joe is an excellent writer and photographer and an excellent feature story writer. I see nothing but a great career in Joe’s future.”

Santana’s internship was specially sponsored by a $3,000 donation from the Arkansas Press Women – the result of a donation from the Dumas Chamber of Commerce, Dumas Economic Development, and Merchants & Farmers Bank of Dumas. Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder originally was going to be honored at the 2020 National Federation of Press Women conference with a reception in Little Rock with funds from those groups. The pandemic forced the event to cancel, and Schexnayder passed away months later.

Melvin and Charlotte Schexnayder owned and published The Dumas Clarion for 44 years. Schexnayder, who passed away in 2020, was one of the first members and a former president of Arkansas Press Women and the first female president of the Dumas Chamber of Commerce, among many other honors.

The funds were originally meant to sponsor a welcome reception in Charlotte’s honor during the 2020 National Federation of Press Women conference. The conference was postponed due to COVID-19, and the funds were repurposed for The Dumas Clarion internship after Charlotte’s death in December 2020.

Santana is continuing to gain newspaper experience as he has joined the staff of UA Little Rock’s student newspaper The Forum and is looking forward to a career in journalism after he graduates in May 2024.