Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Town-Gown" journalism projects

A short Twitter exchange with two former students inspired me to compile a list of exemplar sites where colleges are getting engaged in community news coverage, something that's been interesting to me for a while. And having compiled the list, I thought it would be good to post it here as well.

This idea is something that Len Downie and Michael Schudson raised in their Reconstruction of American Journalism report as an idea that could help add some valuable elements to the news ecosystem. These projects take various forms but generally entail online presentation of student coverage of the community, sometimes in collaboration with local media and sometimes in collaboration with local community members in a hyper-local format. Some of the projects in this list have been around for a while while others are new.

The context of the Twitter exchange was that I mentioned to these former students that this had been a topic of some extensive discussion at the AEJMC conference in Denver a few weeks ago. I attended about three different panels on the topic, and it seems to be something the industry and the academy are interested in bringing about in a lot of places. So this is by no means an inclusive list;
I'm sure there are many more out there and would welcome additions to the list in the comments. But to get things started, here are a few high quality student-community collaborations that have come to my attention either at the sessions I attended in Denver or earlier.

Chicago Talks (project of Columbia College, Chicago)
The Local: East Village (New York University)
The Local: Fort Greene (Brooklyn) (City University of New York)
New York City News Service (City University of New York)
New England Center for Investigative Reporting (Boston University)
My Missourian (University of Missouri)
Reese Felts Project (University of North Carolina)
Multi-Media Urban Reporting Lab (Philadelphia) (Temple University)
We-Town (Elizabethtown, Pa.) (
Elizabethtown College)
Latina Voices (Columbia College, Chicago)

Additionally, there is the recently announced Patch-U, offering student collaboration with the string of hyper-local sites operated by AOL.

(In Denver I also heard about projects affiliated with Louisiana State University and University of Colorado Boulder but didn't write down any URLs and couldn't find them with Google searches. The LSU one sounded a lot like the CUNY City News Service one, partnering student journalists with media outlets in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other places in the state.)

I think these projects offer a lot of promise for helping the next generation of journalists develop skills in settings outside of traditional newsrooms, which is where progressively more journalism is going to be done. They are especially valuable as in-the-newsroom internships and summer jobs wither with the declining fortunes of legacy news organizations.

They also offer value for news audiences in the communities they cover. Downie and Schudson liken such news operations to the medical field's teaching hospitals, where medical-professionals-in-training help meet the needs of their surrounding communities.

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