Carnegie Corp & Knight Foundation Revitalize Journalism Education
Is print journalism dead? It’s a question that has plagued newspapers and their advertisers as declining readership, particularly among the younger generation, and increasing use of the Internet as an alternative news source have led frustrated journalists to try to figure out how to lure back their errant readers.
Who better to tackle this dilemma than the journalism schools themselves? This past summer, the deans of leading journalism schools at four of America’s top research universities—University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Northwestern, and the University of Southern California (USC)—entered into a partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, both highly reputed grant making institutions, to improve both journalism education and the field of journalism. Known as News for the 21st Century: Incubators of New Ideas, or News 21, the $6 million, three-year project provides funding for 44 ten-week journalism fellows, beginning in June 2006 in each of the four universities. Their mission, simply put, was to engage in long-term, in-depth reporting assignments on topics of global importance. This year’s topics included homeland security (Columbia); the U.S. military abroad (Berkeley); the immigration debate (USC); and privacy/national security (Northwestern). (Harvard University also partnered in this project by putting fellows into the reporting teams of other universities since it does not have a journalism school.)
“Never before have five schools collaborated in this way,” exclaimed Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian. “We are now learning from these interns’ experiences so that we may ultimately transform their education.”
Indeed, one key goal of the News 21 project is to enrich the journalism curricula so that journalism students take full advantage of the panoply of resources at their universities. Earlier studies have shown that schools of journalism need to do a better job helping reporters build expertise in complex areas that they are writing about, including medicine, economics, and international relations, and many research universities have graduate schools of medicine, science, business, and law that can provide such expertise. “Universities have to teach journalists how to learn to learn,” summed up Gregorian. “We need to teach them how to investigate, how to ask the right questions. They have to go to libraries, archives, and find out what is not there. They need to undergo the ‘fatigue of discovery,’” he added forcefully.
A second major goal of the project is for universities to act as incubators, spawning important investigative reporting projects that are distributed nationally through both traditional and innovative media. “The new, storytelling approach [to investigative reporting] is deep, rich, and interactive,” explained Merrill Brown, national editorial director of News 21 and former founding editor-in-chief at MSNBC.com. “The voice is different from the authoritative, 55 year old [who used to tell the news.] Voices of younger people are now being integrated into the stories.” To wit, Berkeley graduate students filmed U.S. troops and peacekeeping missions aboard the U.S.S. Tortuga, a supply ship in the South China Sea; at a base in Djibouti, an East African country beset by terrorism; and throughout a variety of Islamic countries. Their unique stories and video footage were incorporated into a one-hour special, “Beyond the Front Lines,” that aired on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 in September. “Through these stories, we get a sense of the lives of the military in this new and different 21st century paradigm…we learn what it’s like for the half million men and women in the military today,” concluded Brown.
Recognizing that print and television journalism are not the only games in town, News 21 fellows are managing a new web site, www.newsinitiative.org, stocked with results of their work. The USC fellows, who focused their work on the immigration debate, posted a series of blogs, articles, photos, and short videos of their experiences interviewing families, meeting with border patrol officers, and covering immigrants’ rights rallies on a dedicated web site, www.immigrationoutpost.com.
While next year’s News 21 focus has not yet been determined, the evaluation component of this project is critically important since, under the terms of the three year project agreement, each university president has agreed to pay for the third year of the program. At the core of the project, however, Carnegie president Gregorian warned that the journalist’s basic goal of communication will always be essential. “Mark Twain once said, ‘Maine has been connected [by telegraph] to San Francisco, but Maine has nothing to say to San Francisco,’” he cautioned prophetically. But if News 21 accomplishes its goals, communication will indeed be enhanced among not only people of different political persuasions, but also among young and old, those who read traditional print news and those who log on for their news. #