University-based reporting, or university-assisted reporting?

In an article for the Chronicle for Higher Education this week entitled "University-Based Reporting Could Keep Journalism Alive" [] media scholars Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie Jr. discuss the fact that "in recent years, more journalism schools have plunged into producing news for the public" (including ours):

Florida International University now has an arrangement in which the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post, and South Florida Sun-Sentinel use the work of student journalists. Columbia’s Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism has in its few years of existence had students produce work that has appeared in The New York Times, the Albany Times Union, Salon, and on PBS and NPR. Students at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism have produced work for the public posted on the school’s news Web sites. It is beginning another news Web site in cooperation with San Francisco’s KQED public radio and television stations. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University runs the Cronkite News Service, which provides student-reported work to 30 Arizona client news outlets, while other ASU journalism students have worked as paid reporters in the Phoenix suburbs for the Web site of the major metro daily in the city, The Arizona Republic. Similar work is taking place at Boston University, Northwestern University, the Universities of Maryland and Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

While department-run student newspapers, special seminars on investigative reporting, and exclusive internship relationships with professional journalism projects are not new in journalism education, Schudson and Downie argue that the Web has enabled such reporting to reach a much wider audience, in a much more timely manner, than ever before: "Publishing for the general public can now be done at minimal cost—no need to contract out to a printing company, no need to distribute to newsstands—just construct a Web site. Distribution has moved from major barrier to trivial expense."

Here at UW-Madison, of course, our situation is different than those of the stand-alone schools of journalism at Columbia and Arizona State where Schudson and Downie Jr. work.  We’re a School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) whose teaching, research, and service span a range of media industries and knowledge-production practices, from the analytical, investigative practices of careful journalism (whether online, on air, or in print), to the targeted, persuasive practices of ethical strategic communication (whether by businesses, non-profits, or governments).  Our classes incorporate not only the skills and concepts necessary to succeed in these industries, but the context and understanding necessary to understand how these industries work together (and sometimes work against each other) in a global media ecology.  

So for our School, the connection between our undergraduate and graduate educational mission and our larger knowledge-production research and service mission is what motivates our participation in community journalism projects where our students "produce news for the public."  And rather than going it alone, we prefer collaborating with local, professional media firms and non-profit organizations.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Madison Commons.  []  This innovative online partnership between both local/neighborhood organizations (the East Isthmus Neighborhood Planning Council, the South Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Northside Planning Council) and local for-profit media (The Capital Times, Wisconsin State Journal, Isthmus, and Channel 3000) was created by SJMC Professor Lewis Friedland and the UW-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy.  It’s a great example of graduate student researchers and community citizen journalists working together with both democratic civic groups and local mainstream media.


  • Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. [] Started by longtime SJMC lecturer Andy Hall, WCIJ is "a first-of-its-kind alliance with public broadcasting journalists in six cities around the state, plus students and faculty of the journalism school at Wisconsin’s flagship university" which "combines innovative technology with time-tested journalistic techniques to increase the transparency of official actions, intensify the search for solutions to governmental and societal problems, strengthen democracy and raise the quality of investigative journalism."  SJMC Professor Jack Mitchell sits on the board, and three current SJMC students plus one recent SJMC graduate work as reporters in the project.


  • All Together Now Madison []  This project, spearheaded by Brennan Nardi (editor, Madison Magazine), Bill Lueders (news editor, Isthmus), Andy Hall (executive director, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism), and our own SJMC Professor Deborah Blum, ATN is "a collaborative journalism endeavor by news media in Madison, Wisconsin, to produce print, broadcast and online reports on a common theme."  The project has connected to several SJMC reporting classes already.  Their first set of reports, on "Our Ailing Health Care System," are available now.

Schudson and Downie ended their article by reminding us that, "Thinking through what universities can do for journalism requires some serious conceptual work about how best to integrate the legitimate educational and research missions of the university with service to society."  I’ve only thrown out a few of the concrete connections to live, investigative, community journalism that our School has helped to create and nurture, but I think that each one of them fills that double role that Schudson and Downie suggest.  Anybody want to chime in with more examples, or propose further ideas?