Regular readers of this blog know that once a month, I used to write a post for the Carnival of Journalism. For the uninitiated, a group of us, journalism geek types, get together monthly and write about the same topic, directed by a different host each time.
However, life got in the way of Carnival creator David Cohn, the founder of Spot.Us, a nonprofit that helped pioneer community funded reporting and current director of news for Circa. That meant the Carnival went away. But last month, a note went out on our Carnival listserve, and, long story short, it’s back.
This month, our host is Patrick Thornton, described by Cohn as the journalism iconoclast. The question is this: Student news organizations have traditionally existed to give students experience before entering the workforce. The kinds of journalism jobs and journalism companies have changed considerably in the past 10 years, and most student news organizations are set up to mimic traditional print or broadcast news outlets. How would you set up a student news organization in 2013, or how could an existing college news organization modernize itself?
Grambling State University is a historically black college and university (HBCU) located in Grambling, La. The university recently made national news after firing Gramblinite online editor David Lankster Sr. and suspending opinions editor Kimberly Monroe. Both played key roles in stories about how the university’s football team forfeited a game over its deteriorating practice facility. Tracie Powell, co-chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Digital Journalism Task Force and owner of the allDigitocracy blog had excellent coverage of the story here.
So as the self-appointed Editrix and student advisor of the Gramblinite, I will use it as my guinea pig and answer the question of how an existing college news organization can modernize itself. I’m going to assume going in that I have all the money I need to make these changes.
The first thing I would do would be to make the student newspaper independent from the university, similar to what’s done at college newspapers including the University of Maryland-College Park’s Diamondback, Penn State’s The Daily Collegian and The Daily Californian at the University of California-Berkeley. School administrations have much less control and less of an ability to pressure students covering news as an independent publication.
Second, I’d shell out major bucks to buy new equipment, including computers, iPhones, iPads, video and still cameras, editing software and whatever else it takes and provide training to students that would allow them to deliver the news accurately.
Third, I would get rid of the Gramblinite’s print publication. Even at my advanced age, I don’t read print publications anymore. And schools, including Baltimore’s Morgan State University (another HBCU) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have done it. My reading is done on my iPad and iPhone. Students these days get almost all of their news online, so go where your customers are. I’d build a dynamic website that is easily viewed across all digital platforms. I’d include video, audio, photos, graphics, comments and social media.
And speaking of platforms, the fourth thing I’d do is get rid of separate media. No more radio news, television news, print news and magazine news on campus. I would make one converged newsroom to allow students to gain skills across all platforms, and disperse the news accordingly, using rolling deadlines.
Fifth, I’d require all students working in the converged newsroom to create their own portfolio websites where they could house all of their stories in one place. So by the time graduation comes, they won’t be scrambling at the last minute to put one together.
Sixth, I’d create an independent advisory board made up of students, a faculty member from the communications/journalism school and alumni who are working in the field to guide students. I would also pay stipends to the editor in chief, the managing editor and the webmaster for the newspaper, because this is hard work, and they deserve to get a check for it.
I’d then offer training at the beginning of each semester to let new students know what’s expected and remind existing students what is still expected. Then I’d let them go and write the stories they want to write, knowing they are free from university pressure and have a strong group backing them.