Photo of Amy S. McCombs
Download high res photo

Amy S. McCombs

Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies
University of Missouri at Columbia
Columbia, Mo
Personal Website


Amy McCombs will apply her media management experience to the exploration of sustainable business models, to the innovative application of emerging technologies, and the impact the models and technologies will have on a free press.


Professor McCombs, experienced as a chief executive with board experience in the media, higher education, and nonprofit sectors, became the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies in fall 2010. Joining in a part-time capacity she will become full-time in fall 2011.

McCombs spent the majority of her career in media with executive management responsibilities at both the Chronicle Publishing Company in San Francisco and the Broadcast Division of the Washington Post Company. The broadcast, cable, and Internet properties she managed were all recipients of the industry’s major journalism awards and recognitions.

Grant Background

Because stable democracies require a free-press system and because the need for citizens to understand their free-press rights is greater than ever before, the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies shall be established. The Chair shall focus on teaching and scholarship on free-press issues as they affect the citizens of democratic societies, recognizing that citizens need to learn about their rights and how to use them.

The Lee Hills Chair shall keep its sight on the important goal of helping citizens understand that, while the First Amendment and other protections of free expression benefit the media, the ultimate and most important beneficiaries of a free press are the citizens of democratic societies. The Chair shall conduct a program of teaching, research and dissemination aimed at illuminating and explaining the importance of free-press issues and policies to individual citizens of democratic societies.

Recent Activities

Lee Hills directed the Lee Hills Chair to “keep its sight on the important goal of helping citizens understand that the ultimate and most important beneficiaries of a free-press are the citizens of democratic societies.”  In 2013-14 the following outcomes furthered this goal:

Teaching responsibilities and expanding audiences for the Global Journalist: The Lee Hills Chair has responsibility for the Global Journalist, a multimedia news product, newsroom, and related course that give students an opportunity to fine-tune their 21st century journalism skills as they report on global issues for a global audience and as they explore the challenges to free-press around the world.  Through the continued expansion of content, the use of digital and social media platforms, followers continue to grow in English speaking countries and in non-English speaking countries as wide-spread as South Sudan, Pakistan, Uganda, Malaysia, South Africa, Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil, Qatar, Singapore and Ukraine.

The Global Journalism course and media platform have become a place for innovation and experimentation with the addition of a new course focused on emerging technologies, mobile, and social media.

A Global Journalist course and international reporting project was developed for the Spring 2014 semester.  The project took undergraduate, graduate students and faculty to Myanmar to participate in and report on the East-West Center’s historic International Media Conference in Yangon, Myanmar.  The conference theme, “The Challenge of a Free-Press was timely for Myanmar and the Southeast Asian region.  The Myanmar government has just ended 60 years of censorship as it moves to a more democratic society. The Missouri School of Journalism’s coverage of geo-political issues, technology and journalism was distributed through the Center’s media outlets and the Global Journalist media platforms to audiences around the world.  Coverage included a news-making keynote by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In June 2014 the Lee Hills Chair and the director of the Center on Religion and the Professions and publisher of the Religion News Service were selected to represent the Journalism School in University’s Global Scholars Program in Turkey.  The intent of the program is to help faculty internationalize their teaching and to explore international collaborations for the University. 

The Global Journalist’s efforts were rewarded by the national Telly Award competition with a Bronze Award in the Internet/Online Video – Political category. 

Supporting the role of journalists:  The Lee Hills Chair and the Missouri School of Journalism continued its four-year partnership with the East-West Center with programs funded by the U.S. Embassies in Islamabad, Pakistan.  The program is designed to increase Pakistani journalists’ knowledge of the U.S. and to explore journalism principles and the role of media in society.  Journalism School faculty and students were included in this program along with the Muslim Student Organization giving all an opportunity to interact with journalists from countries and regions currently in the headlines. This program began in 2011.

During the East-West Center’s 2014 Media Conference on the challenges of a free-press the Lee Hills Chair moderated a keynote presentation on civic media’s challenges and opportunities presented by Ethan Zuckerman, director, Center for Civic Media, MIT.  She also led a plenary panel on the ethical challenges of journalism in the digital age that featured two of Southeast Asia’s most courageous journalists, Bambang Harymurti of Indonesia and Soe Myint of Myanmar.

During the conference the Lee Hills Chair directed a journalism workshop for Burmese and ethnic journalists.  Also attending were Burmese educators interested in designing journalism education programs.

Expanding the understanding of the impact business models and public policy have on the free flow of information:

The Lee Hills Chair co-teaches an MBA/MA course, “Management and Entrepreneurship and Media of the Future.”  The course matches business and journalism students with media properties that have specific business model issues.  The Chair is able to apply her industry, management and technology experiences and guide the students as they develop recommendations and strategies for their clients.  The media entities are domestic and international and include traditional media and start-ups.

The Chair received University recognition for her entrepreneurial activities and for her participation in enterprises that advanced the economic development missions of the University of Missouri.  The recognition was part of the Chancellor’s inaugural recognition program designed to showcase innovation.

      Give us an example of a media company or organization that you see doing innovative journalism with impact. How do you use this example in your teaching?

Circa -

Circa Co-founder and CEO Matt Galligan is creating a news product with a current focus on millennials and mobile.  This serial entrepreneur, named by Forbes in January 2014 as one of “30 Under 30 Building the Media Companies of Tomorrow,” is finding success in a very crowded digital news marketplace. 

Circa’s website best describes the news product: “Circa is a media organization that enables readers to more easily consume, engage with, and follow the day’s news by delivering comprehensive yet to-the-point coverage in a format tailored specifically for mobile lifestyles.”  “Circa’s experience provides the key aspects of the news (facts, stats, quotes, events, and images) in a succinct way to deliver its readers the world’s current events for digesting in just a matter of minutes.” 

Circa does not provide final stories as do most traditional media and is often cited as an example of the “post-article” news world.   It delivers the evolution of stories in digestible bites that the consumer can personalize to his/her own interests and with the depth desired.  Circa 3.0 has just been released and includes feeds called “Wire” and Daily Brief” that are designed to improve the user experience.  The company is evolving and is indicating an interested in expanded reporting and has announced the introduction of a website in the near future.

Circa is a technology company whose technology appears to be of interest to other media organizations.  It has combined technology with fewer than 20 news editors located primarily in the United States to create a product that is competitive with much more labor-intensive news services. 

NiemanLab’s Caroline O’Donovan reported in September 2014, “What’s in store for Circa’s CMS is especially important as they move towards building a business plan for the app. Galligan says they’re in talks — ‘active discussions with news organizations that would be complementary to our brand and to our audience’ — about what their system could provide to other media companies. (Whether that would mean content partnerships or software licensing, Galligan wouldn’t say.)”

Vanity Fair blogger Benjamin Solomon reports that the company is already seen as a major disruptor and a candidate as a major acquisition.   Another indicator of Circa’s impact comes from Apple which in 2013 named it one of its best apps and where App Store users awarded 4.5 stars.

      Internet surveillance, freedom and privacy have become central concerns for those journalists in the digital age. What are you teaching your students about those topics?

The Lee Hills Chair was charged to focus on free-press issues.  There has been no time in its existence that the challenges to a free-press have been greater than today.  Consequently, one of the principal focuses of the multimedia news product, the Global Journalist, and the related classes is the concerns of journalists and the challenges facing journalists both in the United States and around the world.

The Missouri Method is used to bring these challenges to life for the students as they research and report weekly on free-press issues for the “Free-Press Watch” section of the Global Journalist and produce in-depth, multimedia stories on the issues.  Regular classroom participation by journalists from around the world and representatives of watchdog organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists also bring the reality of these threats home to the journalism students and the Global Journalist’s audiences. 

The 2013 Committee to Protect Journalist historic report, “The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in the post-9/11 America” is used in the class to examine the balance between security and rights of freedom, privacy and a free-press. The students see in this report the threat to press freedom in the United States.  At this point in history, all journalism students need to understand this reality.

In 2013 the Global Journalist students had a rare opportunity to cover this report in depth with interviews with its author Len Downing, Center for Public Integrity founder Chuck Lewis, and Executive Director of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors) Mark Horvit.  The resulting radio TV program and digital content are available online and on YouTube:

Additional content was created for the Global Journalist website and Apple News Stand App to be released in fall 2014. 

The examination of these issues will continue in fall 2014 with special reports on the Edward Snowden documents and the Guardian’s role in bringing the story to the public.  The Global Journalist students are also going to have the rare opportunity to meet with Guardian journalists and to participate in an exclusive pre-release screening of Laura Poitras’s documentary “CitizenFour” which examines the issue of surveillance and presents her eight-day video interview with Snowden.  The resulting Global Journalist student reporting will appear on the multimedia platforms and in early 2015 as a special App Store News Stand edition.