The YLakeland ambassador program was dissolved over the summer after the nonprofit became a subsidiary of 6AM City, a network of local daily news providers.
Before it closed, YLakeland had ambassadors at Florida Polytechnic University, Southeastern University, Florida Southern College, Polk State College and Keiser University. Among the students who were laid off over the summer were seniors Sam Bowling and Cassie Livingston.
“They told me in an email,” BFA musical theatre major Bowling said. Livingston remembers that they were together on the subway in New York, on a trip for the student improv comedy troupe Studio Box, when they got the email. “We were told that it was transitioning to LAL Today but that the ambassador program was no longer a part of it,” Livingston said.
Livingston, a religion and communication major, had become a student ambassador for YLakeland in the fall of 2017, as a junior. She and Bowling had both applied as sophomores; it was something that they had wanted to do together.
The change yielded uncertainty for the ambassadors who were involved in the program as well as for the students who engaged with YLakeland’s events. The program, which was still young at the time, held Lakeland Study Spots events that were held during both exam seasons last school year.
“We were really sad, because we loved working for YLakeland,” Livingston said. “We hadn’t seen it coming… there wasn’t anything we could really do about it.”
Livingston decided to apply to work for LAL Today over the summer.
“I like learning about the city I’m in, and I love local businesses,” she said. “I was interested in the company itself… and I needed the communications internship.”
The only other FSC student that worked with LAL Today graduated in December, Trevor Peters. He had been interning with YLakeland when the change began to happen, and he rode it out to graduation. Livingston sees her experience with YLakeland as part of what made it easy for her to apply to work for LAL Today—she had met with the mayor of Lakeland on a prior occasion, and she had written about other Lakeland development previously.
YLakeland was founded as a way to engage college students and young adults with the community. Beyond study nights and social media posts, YLakeland ambassadors like Livingston and Bowling were in charge of tabling at Florida Southern to promote YLakeland’s platform and taking students to events and businesses they had never been to before.
“I’d bring them to the farmer’s market,” Livingston said. “It was really about promoting local businesses in creative, non-sponsor-y ways.”
Where YLakeland’s market was small, just local college students and young adults that the city wanted to keep in town, LAL Today’s market spans any demographic with access to the internet. “LAL Today is very much for people who live here, whether that’s young people, moms, whatever, dads, business men—Dr. Hamilton reads it every morning,” Livingston said.
Livingston describes much of her work now, with LAL Today, as investigative. LAL Today depends on tips from its readers, but even then much of it must be fact-checked by workers and linked to credible sources. “Everything that you see publication-wise, we help with the background for that,” she said. “We come up with news notes, which are short blurbs with local news, development, [and] national news.”
Livingston noted that much of the material that LAL Today produces is obtained through community interaction. “We’ll put on our story, ‘Hey, does anyone know what’s happening at this new development site?’” she said, “Whether it’s people that are working for the City of Lakeland, we’ll get answers quickly, or someone who lives right near there.” She enjoys getting tips about the city from people who live in the city.
YLakeland was largely overseen by Christina Graham, who now serves as the Executive Director for Catapult, the startup accelerator and workspace in downtown Lakeland. Three top editors and journalists in LAL Today are Catapult members.
Both YLakeland and Catapult were initiatives of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, which is funded by major local and state businesses. Publix and MidFlorida Credit union are two of the largest funding partners of the LEDC.
6AM City serves as the six-city news broadcasters, all of which are in the South. Other cities with 6AM City publications are Chattanooga, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C. and Charleston and Columbia, S.C. According to YLakeland’s initial announcement about the transition, 6AM City is similar to TheSkimm or The Hustle, but “hyper-local.”
6AM City’s strengths lie in its general, universal style guide. It has special typographical guidelines, they use the plus sign instead of the world ‘and,’ for instance. Livingston appreciates the structure that 6AM City provides to LAL Today because it allows her to learn as she conducts interviews and talks to public officials.
“It’s certainly been more of a learning experience,” Livingston said. “With YLakeland, I was just on the team of making things happen, whereas with LAL they’re teaching me a lot, which has been so valuable.”
“I’m interested to see where LAL Today will go, even after my graduation and everything,” Livingston says, “how it continues to get more and more involved in the city, how it continues to write more, how it continues to gain a greater following.”