Television stations across California will air proof this Friday that graduate student journalists can report and produce quality, top-flight journalism on the controversial issues of our time.
The July 21 segment — a piece on immigration created this summer by University of Southern California graduate students – is but the first of a collection of investigative stories being produced by News 21, a journalism education project aiming to transform the way the nation’s top journalism schools teach the craft.
Over the past two months, the 44 News 21 fellows have worked on long-term, in-depth reporting projects on four topics of high public concern: the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military abroad, the immigration debate, and privacy and National Security. Their work is part of the Carnegie Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, a project funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The projects by the students, whose reporting included trips to Korea, Mexico and Washington, D.C., are expected to be carried by major news outlets. The New York Times published a Columbia University News 21 fellow’s report on the front page of its July 19 business section headlined: Private Prisons Expect a Boom. The story explores the financial gains possible for private prison companies when more illegal aliens are arrested.
Fellows are also managing a new web site — www.newsinitiative.org — stocked with the results of their work. Updates will bring new and exclusive stories to the web site.
“News 21 has given the fellows the rare chance to do in-depth reporting under the mentorship of experienced journalists and expert professors,” said Merrill Brown, national editorial director of News 21 and former founding editor-in-chief at MSNBC.com.
“The world is so big and there’s so much news going on, incredibly important stories are just waiting to be told,” said Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives at Knight Foundation. “News 21 puts the news industry on notice that today’s young people are up to the task.”
Beyond producing excellent journalism, News 21 is strengthening connections between top journalism schools and their surrounding universities, tapping the enormous resources available at today’s research institutions.
News 21, which is just one part of the larger journalism education reform initiative, was started in 2005. Five of America’s leading research universities are partners in the initiative: University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University, Harvard University and USC.
“By offering journalism students access to courses in the wider university, News 21 enriches their understanding of complex topics like economics, history, science and thus creates better-prepared journalists who not only possess skills but deep knowledge about important topics,” said Susan King, vice president of public affairs at Carnegie Corporation.
Prior to the summer term, four of the schools — UC Berkeley, Columbia, Northwestern and USC – held semester-long seminars on the topics to be covered by their respective fellows. (Harvard put fellows into the reporting teams of the other universities since it does not have a journalism school.)
“Each school’s spring course brought faculty, university community members and prestigious outsiders into the class to create a unique learning environment,” Brown said. “The stories reflect that rich academic experience.”
Brown also said News 21 fellows are also demonstrating that outside of the conventions of large news organizations, important independent journalism can be developed and published on stand-alone web sites. “This model opens up new possibilities for the fellows and others anxious to find outlets for quality work.”
During their reporting and research the fellows have posted regular blog entries, multimedia features and traditional written articles, on both the initiative’s web site and their team’s individual web pages.
For example, USC’s 10-person team has posted a series of blogs, articles, photos and short videos of its experiences interviewing families, meeting with Border Patrol officers and covering immigrant rights rallies to its web site: www.immigrationoutpost.com.
Friday’s segment, titled: “A Tale of Two Cities: San Bernadino and Maywood,” airs in partnership with California Connected, a news magazine produced by four public television channels and carried by 12 television stations located across the state.