Journalism collaboration merges journalists with students

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The students won’t be the only ones going back to school this fall at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Journalists from The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting will join young scholars in the university’s new Center for Collaborative Journalism. The Center, backed by $4.6 million in grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will include the new home of The Telegraph. Meanwhile, the studios for Georgia Public Broadcasting’s GPB Radio Macon will be located next to the Center. Mercer’s journalism students will receive hands-on training as they work with journalists from the two media outlets to complete story assignments. inVocus talked to Larry D. Brumley, senior vice president for marketing communications and chief of staff at Mercer University, over email about the Center’s goals and plans.

inVocus: What was Mercer’s main motivation for starting the Center for Collaborative Journalism?

LB: To bring innovation to journalism education and to transform the communities served by the university and the media partners.

inVocus: How did The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting get involved with the Center?

LB: Mercer and GPB entered into a partnership in 2006 when the University built out studios on our campus to enable GPB to expand their local coverage and service to Central Georgia. So we had a precedent for a media partnership. In 2009, Telegraph publisher George McCanless approached Mercer President Bill Underwood to explore the possibility of moving the paper onto the campus. The newspaper had been downsizing – as was true with papers across the country – and no longer needed all the space in their downtown facility. While the university could not accommodate their space needs at that time, it began a discussion that ultimately led to the partnership between GPB, The Telegraph and Mercer.

inVocus: What activities will be carried out on a daily basis in the Center?

LB: A medical school model will be employed relative to the journalism curriculum. That is, a student’s first two years will be spent fulfilling general education requirements and taking basic journalism courses. The junior and senior years will be spent taking advanced journalism courses and completing “clinical rotations” with our media partners. Students will work alongside the journalists at The Telegraph and GPB, in a similar fashion as third- and fourth-year medical students work along doctors in clinical settings. We envision “reporting teams” composed of students, Telegraph reporters and GPB reporters working together on enterprise stories that lead to a more informed, engaged community.

inVocus: What has the response been like from journalism and media studies students toward the Center?

LB: Our current students are very excited about the new Center for Collaborative Journalism, although our seniors regret that they will be graduating before having an opportunity to benefit from the new program. We are having a special visitation day for prospective journalism students on March 24 to give them an opportunity to learn more about the program.

inVocus: What benefits will the outside community gain from the Center?

LB: The Collaborative will emphasize civic journalism that focuses more on solutions to the community’s critical issues, adapting new-media technologies for greater reach and audience engagement. This initiative also addresses Knight Soul of the Community findings that community attachment in Macon is declining. It will seek to transform our community by providing citizens with information, policy leadership, meaningful participation and a new sense of possibility.

inVocus: How would Mercer like to see the Center evolve over the next few years?

LB: Mercer currently enrolls about 50 journalism majors. Over the course of the next five years we expect that number to double. But we also see students from other disciplines – computer science, engineering, business, art, political science, etc. – getting involved with the Center. This is one of the advantages Telegraph publisher George McCanless envisioned with moving to a college campus. The media partners can tap a wealth of talent in a variety of fields to enhance the journalism they produce.

inVocus: Anything else you would like to add?

LB: We believe the Collaborative will expand journalism resources for our community at a time when traditional newsrooms are shrinking and by operating the most innovative, collaborative arrangement in America between public broadcasting, a local daily newspaper and a private university. We also believe that graduates of this program will be highly marketable in a competitive field because of the experiences they will gain through this unique collaborative.

— Lauren Cohen

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