The days of journalism school content living on islands that are not a part of their community should come to end. One of the ways this can be accomplished is by having journalism schools partner with campus business schools in which students from both schools work collaboratively on maintaining a living, breathing monetized news website or mobile product.
This will be my recommendation as part of the collaborative Carnival of Journalism topic, “The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community,” and an upcoming round-table organized by David Cohn at Missouri.
In general, I think David hit it on the head when he said that at many schools, the journalism that students produce is “museum work.” It is work that is produced in a vacuum, only to be read and seen by the professors, students and sources.
In the last 5 years, journalism schools have taken a step in showcasing student work on their websites, and in some cases, like my experience at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, producing entire websites or in-depth web projects. Students are progressively able to learn to produce for the web and the web, learning multimedia and social media skills. At Columbia, almost every class had a dedicated website that either covered a neighborhood or specific topic. The problem is few people actually visited these websites because of a lack of outreach or as soon as they gained momentum they were killed off at the end of class.
Why Working With Business Schools Makes Sense
The idea behind “vacuum” journalism environments is that it creates a safe environment for students to learn, make mistakes, screw up and improve their craft. This perhaps reduces student fear and provides them with the skills they need before they jump into a “real” journalism organization, where brand is at stake.
That makes sense, but what about students that have gained fundamental skills and would like to improve their craft in the environment and pressures that working in a news organization provides? The economic pressures felt by journalists in newsrooms across the country? The pressure that forces journalists to become entrepreneurial and innovative in their solutions to journalism’s current challenges? This is why partnering with business schools makes sense.
It could start with a collaborative class, in which both journalism school students and business school students maintain and manage a website or mobile-only news product focused on a local community that is constantly updated. I include mobile because I think mobile-only news products will become more prominent and an options as more readers consume their news on-the-go. The coverage would be focused on a community of need, combined with market research to show whether there is business demand.
This class would have to be offered year-round to be successful in building an audience and attracting interest from advertisers. The revenue generated would go to pay costs for the website and the students. And no, paying students for their journalism school work is not unheard of. At my undergraduate journalism school at the University of Minnesota, I was able to participate in a paid internship at the Star Tribune, the daily metro newspaper. The internship was really a class through the school, taught by a professor. So why not have students get paid for their work for a website they maintain and manage?
Economic incentive would force the websites and students to do more outreach and community engagement, something that has become almost expected of journalists today. The sites would no longer just be islands consumed by the few, but would instead grow into resources for local communities. It wouldn’t be easy, of course. It would take real sacrifice from students working together to build a sustainable destination for local journalism. But it could be possible if it is addressing a need for content in an under-covered community.
Not only would this provide adequate training for the journalism students, but it would also train the business school students on media and online economics and sales. And perhaps more importantly, if done right, it would fill a gap in news in a community that have had its news source recently face cutbacks.
The days of content produced by journalism students living on an island are gone, not only for the sake of students getting proper training but also the community continuing to be informed.