The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 03, 2014

New Cronkite Public Insight bureau puts students to work to benefit journalism

Posted by Kristin Gilger

Kristin Gilger is associate dean at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Below, she writes about the Cronkite School’s new Public Insight Network bureau, funded in part by Knight Foundation, where students provide services to professional news organizations seeking to engage with diverse audiences and improve their storytelling.

Journalists are good at finding experts for their stories, but what they may miss are the “expert” voices of people who don’t often find their way into the news.

Since 2003, American Public Media’s Public Insight Network has tackled this problem by connecting journalists to a network of people across the country who have agreed to share their stories, ideas and views. With the support of a $2.95 million grant from Knight Foundation, the network has grown into a community of more than 215,000 citizens and 80 newsrooms across the country.

Now, American Public Media has joined with the Cronkite School to establish the first PIN bureau and explore a sustainable business model for the network. Knight Foundation is supporting the effort with a new three-year, $250,000 grant that American Public Media has matched via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The new PIN bureau, located in a spacious newsroom at our school, is where Cronkite students will learn first-hand what engagement journalism is all about. They’ll work with news organizations across the country, helping them unearth stories, locate sources, ask questions, test hunches and provide important context to stories. They’ll also work on developing a new business model for PIN, exploring what kinds of services media outlets need and how those needs can be met.

Rebecca Blatt, an award-winning media professional, will lead the PIN bureau beginning in mid-March. Rebecca has significant experience managing PIN projects and community outreach and engagement efforts for WAMU 88.5, a public radio station that serves the Washington, D.C., area, and she has already forged a real connection with our students. 

We’re excited about helping media connect better with their communities, and we’re convinced that the research, analytical and entrepreneurial skills that students learn will prepare them to lead in a news environment that is becoming ever more audience-driven.

Two of our students recently braved the snow and cold to travel to St. Paul, Minn., for a PIN training session at American Public Media. They came back and plunged right in, working with a half-dozen news organizations in different markets to start developing their PIN skills. With the help of American Public Media professionals, they are using the network to find sources and information for stories on health care and the U.S. Senate election in Kentucky, anti-bullying efforts in schools in Connecticut and independent political party affiliations here in Arizona.

One of the students, Brooke Stobbe, said she’s especially excited about collaborating with journalists in radio, TV and print newsrooms. “I knew it was going to be a really good opportunity,” she said. “I’m working with newsrooms across the country in ways that most 20-year-old college students don’t normally experience.”

Stobbe and her PIN partner Dominick DiFurio will be joined by about 10 other students this fall when the PIN bureau launches full time.

The bureau is one of nine professional immersion programs at the Cronkite School, where students report, write, produce and innovate under the direction of journalism and communications professionals. Undergraduate and graduate students work at least two full days a week, getting an intensive experience that holds them to professional standards and goes well beyond what can be accomplished in a traditional classroom.

It may seem like a lot to ask of students, but Stobbe and DiFurio will tell you that it’s well worth it. And we’re convinced their efforts will pay off — not just for them, but for the journalism profession.

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