Southwrite

Telling stories

This Hospital Might Just Save Journalism

Posted by southwrite on July 7, 2014

CCJ director Tim Regan-Porter

CCJ director Tim Regan-Porter

Everyone knows that journalism is in trouble. Newspapers are on life support and there are few occupations chancier than being a reporter. Not many media companies have figured out how to make money off the news and actually pay writers at the same time.

Yet, a growing number of people of people in the profession are saying that one good answer might be found on the campus of Mercer University in the Middle Georgia City of Macon. Here the Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ) is taking a “hospital” approach to training journalists and in the process is reviving professional journalism.

The 186-year-old Macon daily, The Telegraph, and Georgia Public Broadcasting have co-located to a new mixed use development on the Mercer campus. Students from the journalism program are now working side by side reporters leaning by doing a good bit of the legwork for newspaper and public radio reports. It’s a lot more than just fetching coffee.

These students are producing real journalism. Mercer junior Jane Hammond did an early  story for National Public Radio on the Atlanta’s Braves move to  Cobb County and another on the Mercer basketball team’s upset of Duke. She also did a four minute feature on concussions in youth football.

“I’m fairly confidence that this is the only one like in the nation that has a public broadcaster and a (professional) newspaper in a school,” explains Tim Regan-Porter, the Center’s director. “There’s nothing else like this in which we’re integrating the professionals into the curriculum. It’s a first as far as we can determine.”

Journalism schools have long offered internship at media outlets. I spent three months at a weekly in Barnesville, Ga while at the University of Georgia’s journalism school. None have ever put students this close to real newsrooms enabled this much mentoring by editors and reporters.

The idea for the journalism center originated with the Macon Telegraph’s former publisher George McCanless. The energy and enthusiasm that he saw among the students he met at UGA was in sharp contrast to the generally pessimistic feelings of professional journalists. Why not move the newspaper out of its aging and cavernous building and onto the campus so that his reporters could experience some of that passion?

Back in Macon, he called up Mercer’s entrepreneurial-minded president Bill Underwood. He liked the idea and suggested they include a public broadcaster in the mix as well. And, to make it happen the two approached the Knight Foundation about providing funding.

The Knight Foundation also liked the notion – to the tune of $4.6 million. (Macon’s Peyton Anderson Foundation kicked in another $1 million.) They also informed journalism school deans and presidents of the universities “saying that if you want foundation money you need to start exploring these types of models. Teaching hospitals is the way you need to be thinking about it. Think less about academic credentials and start leveraging professionals to teach,” he adds.

“Bill Underwood went to Knight and made the pitch that of all the professional schools, medicine does the best job of training professionals because they have teaching hospitals,” explains Regan-Porter. “They’re actually serving the community and you have mentoring going on in a very real direct way. And they not only tend to the best educational services and professional services, but they also tend to provide the best hospital services for their area, because the doctors are staying up to speed with the latest medical technologies. That’s what we want to do for journalism.”

The Center for Collaborative Journalism in Mercer Village is now home to The Macon Telegraph and Georgia Public Media.

The Center for Collaborative Journalism in Mercer Village is now home to The Telegraph and Georgia Public Media.

The Telegraph moved its news room operations to the new building in Mercer Village, a mixed-use development in Macon’s College Hill Corridor, near the University’s historic campus, about six months ago. A new student residence hall sits just across the street from the building on a street that includes a variety of restaurants and shops. The original plan was to house the entire company here, but funding fell short. Georgia Public Media occupied another section of the building. More recently the Center acquired its own television station.

Getting professionals involved in the training of student journalists has been one area in which the program has been particularly successful. Regan-Porter came to the Collaborative Center after co-founding of Paste Magazine, one of the nation’s leading Music/Film/Culture publications and a direct competitor to Rolling Stone. He declined offers from bigger and more prestigious institutions both because of the program and the opportunity to live in the hip and historic College Hill neighbor that surrounds Mercer.

Reporters come into the classroom as guest lecturers and also work in the school’s writing lab critiquing student articles. That’s been particularly important as students enroll in the ongoing Practicum class that requires them to do published work. The process is good for students – they get professional mentoring – and for reporters – they get some help with their own work.

So where is the program going from here? Regan-Porter’s answer reflects just how different this effort is compared to the typical academic approach.

“We’re still figuring it out,” he admits. “We’re making changes every year and we will continue to do that – which is unique for academia. They don’t exactly like changes every year, but we’re very free rein. We have a lot of flexibility.”

Advertisements

One Response to “This Hospital Might Just Save Journalism”

  1. […] This Hospital Might Just Save Journalism […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: