Research roundtable: Collaboration between universities and journalism organizations (CJS2022 Day 2)
3:51PM May 25, 2022
So research roundtable Next up, we are going to talk about how universities and students partner with professional working journalists across the country like to welcome Mark Bercy Gerard to the stage, our New Jersey colleague from Rowan University in South Jersey. And I know Mark, this was a topic that you have wanted to dig into for years, and you finally got the chance to, and the stage is yours. I'm excited to see what you've found. Great. Thank you so much.
All right, thank you. Yeah, I'm Mark Berkey-Gerard, I teach at Rowan University, which is in Glassboro, New Jersey, outside of Philadelphia. And, um, my research project is looking at partnerships between universities and news organizations in the United States.
And my interest in this is really personal, and also practical as a, as a journalism educator, and someone who's done partnerships in the past. This is something that I wanted to look at and learn more about. So. As I said,
30 minutes? I think she knows, yeah.
So yeah, I've done I've been an educator for about 15 years, and I've done multiple partnerships over the years. And they've all had really great benefits. But they've all had particular challenges as well. So this quote here, be prepared to fail and pivot is, this is something that I had in my research and someone I talked to said this, and this really does like kind of sum up my experience with partnerships with working with my students and news organization. So I'm all in on collaboration, but I'm also someone who, who realizes the, the challenges and as realistic about what it entails. So my main question was just to understand more about how collaborative journalism is being practiced within University journalism education in the United States, and to get a better understanding of what's being done and how, how people are doing it. Before I jump in a little, little background on some of the ideas and philosophy behind journalism education in the United States, the idea of partnership of collaboration is not new. This is it goes back as far as journalism education itself. Within journalism, education, sometimes, we talked about the Missouri method from the University of Missouri. And this really means things like giving students real world experience, covering having students cover their communities, publishing for their communities, and being guided and coached by professionals. So all those things that are kind of elements of collaborative journalism, have been around for a long time. But I think there is a distinctive era where this became more important kind of in the mid to late 2000s. When there, there started to be this discussion about modeling journalism, education more after medical education. And this idea of a teaching hospital approach kind of emerged. So a couple of key points in that evolution in in 2005, a project called news 21, was launched, which was investigated projects, partnering students and professional news organizations looking at national issues, had a lot of multimedia. And I think this kind of opened the gates to, for more people to do this. There was a number of high profile speeches in the late 2000s, the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, kind of laid out this speech where he imagined 1000s of students reporting on their local communities and how that could transform journalism, particularly at a time when local journalism was starting to retrench. funders have been very interested in this so people like Carnegie and Knight have been interested in partnerships. In 2014, the online news Association started what was called the challenge grant where they would give specific grants to educators who would partner with news organizations to do innovation and change things in the curriculum. Over the last couple of decades, we've seen the emergence of more investigative centers located within universities, schools that have really embraced the teaching hospital approach as central to their curriculum. So I think this has kind of grown. It's grown over the last couple of years. And this idea of the teaching hospital approach, this came up in my interviews, people talk about this. It's not universally accepted. But I think it really is an important force in how people think about journalism education today. And then people have studied and defined kind of this teaching hospital approach of students working with professional journalists in the context of university to produce content for general audiences, in partnership with professional media organizations. And you can see a lot of overlap in this definition to the kind of definitions that we use to talk about collaborative journalism itself. Alright, so my basic research questions were to look at the characteristics of academic and news partnerships, how they're being conducted, some of the benefits, some of the challenges and recommendations for others looking to form their own.
So the way I went about this is, the first thing I did was identify over 100 partnerships between colleges or universities, and professional news organizations in the United States. So I did this through a number of ways. I looked at the the center's database, I searched grants, awards, press releases, some of this was word of mouth, but just tried to put together a spreadsheet in a database of, of partnerships and started there. For each of these identified the primary contacts, both faculty and newsrooms. And I sent out a survey to those people and got a 37% response rate. I followed up with 22 interviews, I conducted these on Zoom, they're about 45 minutes to an hour long, with people who agreed to talk about their experience. And then I analyze the data and the interviews for emerging themes.
So something about the respondents that I want to note before I jump into the data is that it was very heavily the responses I got were from academics and people who work in universities. I think, a couple of reasons for this. Some guesses is that the contact notes easiest easier to find contact information for on a university website, as opposed to a news masthead. And some of those things were a little more difficult to find. Probably also transitions. I noticed this that there was the faculty had fewer kind of job transitions as compared to newsrooms, I think faculty are probably more used to restart responding to academic surveys. And as I found also, in my conversations, a lot of these partnerships were really driven by the faculty. And I think that was part of why the people who responded to the surveys and the questions were were predominantly from faculty. So some of the key findings of the characteristics. And I think the first thing I really, really enjoyed looking at was just all these examples of amazing partnerships being done. And just a wide diversity of approaches topics. And it really, it's people are doing things that work for their students that work for their communities and work for their local newsrooms. And so that was really an amazing thing, just to kind of get to experience the breadth of, of the partnerships, and the really great journalism has been done by students in collaboration with professionals. Some summary from the people who responded to my survey. Most of them were were local, and statewide, most of the partnerships. About 60% of the projects involved undergraduates. The majority were relatively small, and that there were 50, fewer than 50 students per year were part of this. And about three quarters of them were ongoing. And I found this in some ways a little bit surprising, because I think sometimes the one the projects that win awards, or that we hear about tend to be kind of national in scope were investigative or you involve graduate students. And so it was interesting to see that really, the bulk of the projects are local, they're undergraduates. They're small, and there's something that that people are continuing to work on. Some of the collaborative models and this comes, in part from Sarah's research on the models of collaboration Is that about 39% of them are or will be characterized as separate. So the students and the news organizations are doing things kind of separately from each other. And again, I think this follows the tradition of journalism schools or programs having a new surface or self publishing. And then other organizations picking up their content and redistributing it or republishing it, about 23% are co creating. And that means that the, the students and the news professionals are working together to create the content. Some other other things were some people defined there as, as the students were assisting the professionals, and a smaller, smallest percent was like integrated where every aspect of the project, the students, the faculty, the newsroom, the funding was all really integrated was with the smallest. But also a number of people said that their their models, they took a little bit from each that they might have part of their project, which was really separate, or they might have part of their project where they're working together with on particular stories or particular projects. So I think people are really kind of using their own models and kind of picking and choosing what works well for their their students in their project. The supervision and editing of these projects is done primarily by faculty. About a third of them said that they shared them equally but but the faculty, I think, are carrying the bulk of the load of supervision and editing of student projects. I was interested and how students become part of these partnerships. So the over 40% are doing it for a class, it's something they sign up for. And being a participant in the class means working on this partnership. The smallest kind of category was school media organizations. And this is in part because they tend to be independent, and they're run by the students. And so the onus of partnership would be on the students. Some are extracurricular activities that students are invited to some are set up as internships or fellowships. And again, there are some partnerships that are doing a little bit of of each of these things.
Foundation grants are primarily the primary source of funding for these projects, followed by academic institutions that are funding these projects themselves. About 20% of the people said that their projects were unfunded, that they were just doing it with the resources, they had both the newsroom and the faculty to what they do without any additional funding outside of what they already do. I asked who was receiving financial financial compensation for those projects that were funded. And you can see that it's it's kind of split between the news organization and the academic institution. And some people were hiring kind of some external help or freelance journalists, to help with these projects, and particularly to kind of help work with students. The issue of students pay and whether students were being paid or should be paid, was a, this came up a lot in my interviews, people wanted, you know, they felt like if they especially if they were getting funding, and some of the funding was going to a news organization that they wanted students to be paid for their work as well. But it you can see that the majority of the projects, the students were not receiving any compensation other than a byline or having their work published. So some of the key findings, the benefits that I was looking at, four things really kind of emerged. And they were these were things, again, things that kind of came out in the interviews in the data, training of journalism students, expanding the newsroom sizing capacity, covering underserved community and topics and just bringing youth into legacy news organizations were the benefits that that these are the things that kind of emerged from as the biggest benefits.
And so about 89% of the people who answered the survey said that their partnership was extremely significant or significant to the mission and goals of the academic program. It was clear in my conversations and interviews, that a lot of the faculty believed that this is really one of the best ways to for students to learn that these partnerships where they're in, working with professionals, they're in newsrooms. They're producing content with them is worthy one of the fast ways to train journalism students for the future.
Now, the second is the ability to expand a newsroom size or capacity. The majority of respondents said that the student work was excellent or good. They felt like the public value was significant or extremely significant. And a number of people said that their students their class, or whatever actually was, would actually, you know, be a significant increase in the press covering local topics. I had one person who said, I tell my students that you are the third largest newsroom in the state, this, you know, the people in my class this semester. So I think just the the capacity and what can be done and what can be published, is important as well. A lot of people mentioned underserved communities, topics that weren't being covered by faculty and news editors as well said that they particularly wanted their partnerships to cover things that weren't being covered by publications, or news outlets at that time, and so, so things like particular, particular neighborhoods, communities of color, topics like immigration, poverty, these are the kinds of things that I think some of these partnerships feel like they really do well. In fusing a news organization with youth, this came again, from both both sides, they felt like bringing college students into a newsroom for their, their perspective, their voices, their use of technology, their understanding of culture, and just kind of their energy was of benefit for both both parties. So some of the challenges, the key challenges that that emerged, where the academic calendar, the skill gap, between kind of what students can produce and what's expected the time and capacity of both of all partners to pull these projects off. And then kind of the academic versus the newsroom imperatives. The academic calendar was the thing that came up the most this is, you know, most a lot of universities run on these kind of nine months schedules. There's holidays, there's breaks, the end of the semester often kind of creates this artificial deadline. So that this was this was a big challenge about it split about 5050, on whether people were trying to operate their their partnership year round, or whether it was on the academic year, as people tried to adjust to that, but really kind of that rhythm of a newsroom and the rhythm of a university. They don't match up. And that was a huge challenge that people talked about. Also the the skill gap, again, what students can produce, the quality of their work, their kind of general knowledge and context for, you know, whatever the topic is they're covering, and this was this is, you know, people said that they felt like the student work was really good. But this is that there has to be an extra level of editing, an extra level of supervision, to create content that works for professional news organizations when working with students. Time and capacity, again, was a was a big thing. A number of people talked about that, as a particular local news organizations have become more stretched in that their capacity and interest in partnership had actually waned in the last, you know, five to 10 years, they just don't have the people power to take on anything in addition, and faculty said this as well that that to really run a partnership, the way they wanted to it was a lot of the people do this in addition to their full teaching load. And there were not that many projects that actually had like a dedicated person, this was the only thing they did. So it's it's a it's an ask of time and commitment on both ends, and
the academic kind of versus the newsroom imperatives. So the respondents said that, you know, about 70% said that, that it was the partnership was significant or extremely significant to the mission and goals of the news organization. But this is lower than what people said, when they when they talked about the significance to the goals and missions of the academic program. Newsrooms and universities are in different businesses in some ways, and so finding places where those As goals and those visions can over overlap is really a key to this. And so some of the recommendations that, that people talked about, particularly in the interviews, and at the end of my survey, I think a lot of these will, you know, overlap with any kind of partnership or collaboration, but some of them in particular for working with students. So finding shared values and objectives between what educators want to do and what a newsroom wants to accomplish, and trying to find places where those things matched up an additional level of supervision and mentoring of the students, that that working with students is not just another, it's not a it's not the same as a partnership between two professional news organizations that it takes that additional level of, of supervision and mentoring, educating, and in some ways, kind of asking the news organization to take on that some of those roles as well. The main recommendation people said was to have a dedicated coordinator if possible. I know this comes up a lot in conversations about collaborative journalism, managing expectations between what the students can accomplish and what the news organization needs. A formal agreement. And again, this these can be more complicated, particularly with a university because they have their own kind of structures and legal, legal issues. Only about a half of the people I surveyed said they used a formal agreement. But this was a recommendation that that came out to find deliverable news content and format that really works for again, for both, and a lot of people talked about that traditional academic structures don't really work well for partnerships in journalism. And also traditional newsroom structures don't work well for partnerships. And so that it takes some, some rethinking, and, and changing of the the essential structures in order to, to do these in a successful way. So I want to leave you with some of the quotes from my interviews, that kind of highlights some of these recommendations. So again, sharing values on how reporting is done on ethics, and people who share your passion. Be clear on the purpose and objectives for both organizations. If not, if it's not going to serve both partners that is unlikely to work. The news organization has to be ready to provide intensive supervision and mentoring to ensure the quality of the journalism you need a designated person who can manage the partnerships and the students, I would say that the first three or four years of our partnership, it was all about managing expectations of what students were capable of what sort of time constraints they had with undergraduates who have four or five other classes. Getting an MoU signed was a lot of work, getting it through the university lawyers was a challenge. It's so important not to fall into the trap of covering breaking news. Think of all the options and models and which ones work best for you and your students. And then which one of those will work best for the news organization, if it doesn't work, if one entity is pushing the other to do things a certain way. And so I think this was really modeled in what I saw, in that the the projects are really being tailored to the institution, the faculty, the students, the local news organizations, they're working with the communities. And I think that's a really positive way to go. So a couple of things going forward. For this project, I will be looking for a way to kind of share the list of partnerships. I'll be submitting this for peer review. I would love to do site visits and some case studies of this in the future. So thank you for your time, and I welcome patients. Yeah,
yeah, there were a few questions in the chat. One thing is when, if folks want to get more information or dig into this research, will you is it you said it's gonna go through peer review, where you might publish or when you might publish?
My plan is to do that this summer. So I'll have more information right
about this. All right, that sounds good. Okay, cool. Let me tell you a couple questions before we wrap up for our next session. So Robin asks, Does the semester timeline and graduation turnover affect the student newsroom collaboration with a professional organization? How long is the local collaboration? Typically, they typically go for and also before you answer that, I also wanted to mention that Kathy best is here too. And Kathy runs some of the biggest and best student professional clubs in the country. So folks, you can also message Kathy to sorry, Kathy, but yeah, the spot. But Mark, tell us about the semester timeline, how that impacts Yeah, I
think people talked about this as a big challenge that you're you're retraining students, you know, if you're running As a semester project, you're kind of you're training them, and then kind of preparing them to do the work. So some people are doing kind of multistage where they have one semester where they're training and kind of organizing them, so that they're ready to do things the second semester, some places are doing it where they are, you know, they do it through the year, and then they do work over the summer. So I think people are trying to come up with ways that, you know, the project doesn't turn over every 15 weeks. And that's a challenge. So,
yep, yep. Yeah, that makes sense. Joellen Kaiser asks, Did you run into collaborations where the relationship was initiated by the newsroom, and the newsroom mentored students with faculty mainly blessing that relationship? And if so, did those succeed? Are any thoughts around that?
That's a good question. I, I can't think of anything in particular, I didn't ask kind of where you know, how the project was initially created. Often in the conversations, it seemed like the the faculty was looking for a news partner, or that Sakhalin Ickes, when he says to video is the news industry is already and so they were going back to their newsroom contacts, when they wanted to create some kind of partnership. But I can't think of a specific example, that I know of that. That kind of went the other way.
Great. Thank you. Another question. Can you give an example of a successful small student newsroom partnership with a local story? With a professional media organization? What was the topic?
Yeah. And again, these range from like a couple students to, you know, 200 plus students. So it was it was really interesting. In West Virginia, there was a project where it was three students working with Professor doing audio stories for the local NPR affiliate on water quality issues in West Virginia around mining. And that was like a project that got national attention from it was really just a handful of students and professor who are doing that. So
great. Thank you.
There's yeah, there's, there's no limits to like, you know, how big or small these things can be?
That's excellent. Let's see. One other question. And we've got about two minutes here left. So time check. Did you find any faculty resistant to collaboration?
Yes, that was something that it did come up. It's not in my talk here. But faculty talked about the importance of getting other faculty to buy in, that not all journalism faculty thought these partnerships were worth the time and the effort and particularly the effort that goes above and beyond their normal duties. So yeah, that was a conversation was to get the importance of buy in from other faculty from the Dean from the university as a whole, which may not also always understand it, particularly if the subject matter is something that, you know, isn't great PR for the university, that trying to educate all parties about the benefit of this is important.
Yep. Yep. Yeah, that makes sense. And this is a methodology question. And last question, and then we'll move on. Did you identify your promise anonymity to your interview subjects? Yes. Did you anonymity?
Yes. Yes. Okay. Well, yeah, that they would not the they would not be identified by but yes, yes.
Great. Well, I really look forward to seeing this all in print. And we will, you know, Mark, like I've told you before, I love to share this with our collaboration community around the world, you know, send it in our newsletter on our listserv once you get to that point where you're published. And can we share your slides too with folks? Yes, yes. Awesome. Right. Thank you so much.