Wednesday, February 24, 2010

College-pro collaboration in journalism

In their report titled "The Reconstruction of Journalism," one of the ideas proposed by Len Downie and Michael Schudson was that journalism schools ought to be contributing to the news mix to a greater degree. As they describe it:

"Universities, both public and private, should become ongoing sources of local, state, specialized subject, and accountability news reporting as part of their educational missions. They should operate their own news organizations, host platforms for other nonprofit news and investigative reporting organizations, provide faculty positions for active individual journalists, and be laboratories for digital innovation in the gathering and sharing of news and information."

To be sure, this is already happening; elsewhere in the report the authors point out examples from institutions such as Berkeley, Missouri, Columbia, and Florida International.

A new one coming on the scene is a cooperative venture of New York University and The New York Times. The Local: East Village is set to launch in fall 2010, and will consist of NYU students and faculty producing the coverage, which will appear under the Times' brand on its site. As NYU professor Jay Rosen describes it,

"It’s about innovation; it’s about the classic virtues, like shoe leather reporting. It combines the discipline of pro journalism with the participatory spirit of citizen journalism. It’s an ideal way to study the craft, which is to say it’s an entirely practical project. It’s what J-school should be doing: collaborating with the industry on the best ways forward."

NYU apparently has had some kick-back from some stakeholders about this; Rosen mentions that near the end of his posting that "not everyone is thrilled" about the plan but says any problems that arise will be dealt with in course. (Read Jay's full post.)

These collaborations are terrific ideas, in my view, and could really contribute something valuable to the new ecology of journalism. Downie and Schudson make an interesting analogy to other types of professional training, where the faculty are practitioners and contributors to the field:

"In addition to educating and training journalists, colleges and universities should be centers of professional news reporting, as they are for the practice and advancement of medicine and law, scientific and social research, business development, engineering, education, and agriculture."

That's a very powerful idea for what journalism schools could contribute to the craft and society at large. I'm excited for the faculty and students at NYU and I'll be looking at the NYU-NYT collaboration to see how it plays out. I hope it's a real success and becomes a model for other colleges and news organizations. Maybe, if I'm fortunate, I'll be involved in something like this one someday.

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