Trending: “Journalism Schools as News Providers”

As the ranks and resources of the professional press continue shrinking, “news organization-university partnerships” are growing, a new Poynter piece confirms.

As the piece notes, “The New York Times, The Bay Citizen and Next Door Media have recently partnered with universities in hopes that students can help them expand their hyperlocal coverage, engage new audiences and experiment with different business models. Editors and professors say the partnerships are a step toward re-envisioning the relationship that news organizations and universities often share.”

This echoes a mid-November commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael Schudson and Len Downie: “[T]he major engine of original news gathering since the 19th century— the daily newspapers— are producing less original news reporting than they did a decade ago. . . . Major papers across the country have bought out or laid off editors, reporters, and photographers. . . . There has been a substantial loss of reporting capacity. Journalism schools, thanks to the Internet, can help fill the gap.”

Both pieces, and others like them, tend to focus on the benefits and difficulties involved for the news providers.  What about the challenges and opportunities for the schools and students? (An upcoming AEJMC pre-conference session, “Journalism Schools as News Providers,” will address this question.)

My take:  The opportunities provided by these partnerships seem obvious.   The first few that come to mind…

  • It quenches students’ thirst for an immediate, visible presence in the new journalism landscape.

  • It ups students’ motivation to complete “homework” and pay attention in class, considering both can now contain true real world implications. It also ups professors’ motivation to be fully engaged in their teaching-mentoring.

  • The alignment with a trusted media outlet boosts a student’s resume and a school’s reputation.

  • It offers the potential for extra guidance to be provided by staffers at the aligned outlet.

  • The financial incentives available through the alignment deal itself and advertising and other scenarios could be lucrative.

  • And as Schudson and Downie note, it fills a reporting gap.  And it just may save journalism- not journalism as we once knew it, but journalism as our wildest dreams envision it to be.

Among the most prominent university-media partnerships: The New York Times and New York University’s Arthur J. Carter Journalism Institute are teaming up on “The Local: East Village.”

On the flip side, three challenges that come to mind…

  • It potentially affects students’ output and involvement in campus media.

  • It presents a myriad of legal and ethical entanglements.  (For example, if a student screws up, who is at fault?  And how do students identify themselves when working on stories without confusing sources?  Or what happens if a student does not want to write for a certain aligned outlet due to political or other beliefs?)

  • It provides a pressure cooker of a classroom experience that needs to be handled just right so students are not overwhelmed.

What do you think about this j-education trend???

4 Responses to “Trending: “Journalism Schools as News Providers””
  1. K says:

    This trend is certainly an interesting experiment, but it seems unsustainable. The students will work for little (if any) compensation, satisfied with a resume-booster that theoretically will get them a real position at the “bigger” media outlets, which are taking advantage of cheap labor and newsgathering. This cheap labor might fill the void in reporting, but it does not change the fact that media companies aren’t making enough money to actually support the labor force they need to report the news at the level they aspire to.
    However unsustainable these arrangements may be, it’s a great way to facilitate experimentation and hopefully hasten the media industry’s return to profitability.

  2. “Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”


  3. Bryan Murley says:

    This cheap labor might fill the void in reporting, but it does not change the fact that media companies aren’t making enough money to actually support the labor force they need to report the news at the level they aspire to.

    Actually, many of these companies *are* making enough money to support the labor force they need, but it cuts into corporate profits to pay for that labor force.

    I think this trend of using students to provide content for media outlets who are laying off seasoned journalists is a bad one for the industry, no matter what Schudson and Downie say.

  4. Dan says:

    K, I must agree with Bryan’s “corporate profits” arguments here. Let’s be honest. Bryan, I’m sincerely curious, what are your thoughts on why the trend is negative? If you pen a post for CICM, I’d love to feature it. – D