Student Media’s Next Stop Should Be the Statehouse

Attention, attention please.  Paging student media.  You are needed in the state house immediately. 

Amid all the talk and snippets of action as to how college journalism can save the Fourth Estate or at least help ease its decline (such as thefirst university-based investigative journalism center, attempts at international news coverage by j-students at SuffolkSwarthmore, and UMASS, online outlets boasting 24-hour coverage, and chatter about schools possibly purchasing newspapers), 50 pantheons producing politics and quality journalism are being far too often forgotten.  Hint, most have domes at the top.

Statehouses!  As Time recently noted, “Statehouse coverage is the bread and butter of a newspaper: unsexy and repetitive, but one of the foundations of a nutritional news diet.”  Yet, according to Time‘s report, this bread-and-butter is being marginalized, fast.  More and more news outlets that are shedding dollars and reporters are being forced to cut back on dedicated statehouse coverage due to the expense and a lack of staff.  The result?  Less personal connection between a state’s politics and its people and a greater possibility that corruption and poor performances are going unchecked.

Cue college journalists, and the educators who teach and support them.  Of course, some student news outlets lucky enough to operate from universities at or near their capital cities have established state government beats; and a few j-programs already do include state political coverage in the curriculums.  But a more in-depth, and wide-ranging, infrastructure should be put in place nationwide.  Whether treating the experience as an in-state study abroad, an on-location internship or simply an additional part of a j-student’s courseload,statehouse reporting is a win-win-win-win situation for j-students, universities, the public, and the press:

WIN 1) For students, it puts political journalism theory into practice, beyond covering student government or school administrative fights.  It provides students with valuable experiences dealing with things like the FOIA, press liaisons, and political awesomeness and humbuggery.

WIN 2) It provides universities and their j-schools with a tangible, focused course/program that they can promote and utilize as a way to make a real difference in the public sphere.

WIN 3) It provides the public with news they need but are increasingly not getting to the levels that they desire or deserve.

WIN 4) It maintains journalism’s presence in the state halls of power, letting politicians know their fronts, backs, speeches, bills, and wrongdoings are still being adequately watched.

The toughest parts: getting funding to pay for possibly necessary expenses such as lodging, transportation, classroom/office space, and a supervisory person/team; ensuring administrators at public schools don’t get squirmy at the thought of their students covering the same legislators who have power over their universities’ budgets; and hiring the most experienced journalists/educators around to aid students in their state political quests (and to come to their rescue when they screw up or stumble upon more risque stories).

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