Joining forces: it’s time for universities and media houses to work together

Academia, meet industry. Industry, meet academia.

Last year I had the honor of participating in a symposium in Chapel Hill, N.C. (in honor of the retiring Phil Meyer) that featured two days of discussion on the topic of journalism education in the digital age. The final conclusion was clear: in these uncertain and disruptive times, universities and professional news organizations must join forces in order for either of them to make the transition.

That was talk. It’s time to walk.

Walter Robinson’s recent Neiman Reports article, highlights the opportunity. “Journalism schools are brimming with fledgling reporters convinced that career opportunities in the news business are boundless,” Robinson wrote.

How about newsrooms? I haven’t visited any lately that could say the same thing.

So Robinson, who spent 34 year at The Boston Globe and shared in a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, is taking that energy and infusing news operations with the hustle, moxie and idealism that young journalists trying to break in still have today. (Actually, they probably have more.) The results reported by Robinson are impressive:

At Northeastern University in Boston, where I joined the faculty in 2007, students in my investigative reporting seminars have produced 11 Page One stories for The Boston Globe in just 20 months. What’s more, the university’s School of Journalism has started a regionwide First Amendment Center to fight for public records for news organizations that no longer have the money to wage those battles.

It’s long past time to bury old hatchets. News organizations need to forget about that one bad intern who screwed up years ago. J-schools need to forgive the internships that have been cut or granted to students from outside the area. We don’t have time for these games anymore.

Working with universities is something I’ve done for years and it has always been a truly win-win situation. At The News Tribune I helped form a partnership with Pacific Lutheran University to have students shoot video for the newspaper’s Web site. Now with Serra Media, I’m working with schools from around the country, from Carolina to Stanford to Western Washington. We’re offering technology and tools for students to experiment with new forms of journalism and local reporting. In return, we’ll get great feedback and hopefully some interesting case studies. Win-win.

In addition to supplying multimedia stories or investigative reports, university programs, courses and classes (including those outside journalism) can help news organizations in other ways, including:

  • Design: As more newsrooms cut back (or cut out) designers, is there a class that could take on longer-term assignments? They’d love to see their work published.
  • Online community: Lots of news sites struggle with cultivating a community of commenters or user participants online. New entries into the job market need these skills. Why not let curents students cut their teeth on a real audience and help elevate the quality of a site’s discussion in the process?
  • Web analytics: Is there a class that would jump at the chance to go through your Web traffic reports and make recommendations and provide analysis?

So pick up the phone and call across town. Find a local partner. Have a pizza party in the newsroom and allow the student journalists to meet the pros. They have much to learn from each other.

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