University news services have greater role in contemporary media landscape
Dropping frequency and going digital are ways college newspapers have mimicked the greater media at large, struggling to stay afloat just like any other print entity. Not a lot has been heard regarding college news services. But a cursory glance at your paper’s bylines may show that these college news services are quietly serving a larger role in today’s diminished newsrooms. At least, that’s what Rafael Lorente, Washington bureau chief for the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service, has found.
Although initially launched as Statehouse-centric news service two decades ago, Capital News Service branched out and gained a number of local clients, from small dailies to weeklies and monthlies, over the years. Although the likes of the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun were clients, “they didn’t need us,” Lorente said.
That all changed when the cutbacks began. Smaller news organizations no longer had as much space to utilize the news service as frequently, but big news organizations did. Since then, Capital News Service has expanded its clientele, with news outlets increasingly picking up stories, including TV network sites like FoxNews.com. “The reach is a lot broader, a little less predictable,” he said.
One of the perks of being a college wire service is the depth of reporting, such as the ability to put 12 student journalists on a story about climate change, which Capital News Service recently did. Most news outlets just don’t have the resources to put that many people toward an enterprise project, he said. Lorente also noted the in-depth reporting coming from college news services like Northwestern University’s Medill News Service and Michigan State’s own Capital News Service, as well as Virginia Commonwealth University, which partners with Capital News Service.
Director of print and digital news at Cronkite News Service Steven Elliott noted that Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has become more a part of the news process in Arizona, competing with the Associated Press and Capitol Media Services, which is a one-man wire service. “We have around 30 client news organizations using our content produced in Phoenix and Washington, and we have a distribution deal with McClatchy-Tribune that takes some of our stories national,” he said in an email interview. “I think the opportunity is there for college-run wire services provided they can create a full-time immersion experience and provide full-time instruction to make it happen.”
Like Capital News Service, Cronkite News Service offers content outlets may not be able to get otherwise. Elliott noted that they cover news the AP and other clients don’t, and have the only dedicated Washington, D.C., bureau covering Arizona issues. “We focus on public policy coverage with statewide appeal. Because we can put out a robust, professional news report, I believe our place in the media landscape is significant,” he said.
DigitalBurg.com, although not a wire service, acts as a news service of The Muleskinner, the student newspaper at the University of Central Missouri. Occasionally, the site supplies stories to the AP, as well as the Kansas City Star, and a local radio station, noted the site and paper’s advisor, Matthew Bird-Meyer. “I think it would be great if college wire services were more prominent in mainstream media. These students do good work and work hard to get published. We don’t take our reporting lightly, so mainstream media should be confident they are getting solid, reliable content,” he said in an email interview.
Digital has also been a focus among college news services, with Elliott noting that Cronkite offers text, photos, video and other multimedia components. “We’ve gained some traction with clients in terms of including video with presentations of our content, but to be honest it’s still a work in progress because clients have different ways of handling video,” he said.
Back at Capital News Service, Twitter is a well-used tool, with their feed making the Washington Post’s list of influential state Twitter feeds, noted Lorente. He also added that at given times he has four reporters covering legislation.
With student news services providing news for free or a nominal fee to mainstream media outlets, it’s not surprising they’re being utilized more in the face of layoffs and cutbacks, especially since college services can dedicate a number of journalists to any given story. “That’s kind of the charm of being a college wire service – you kind of throw bodies at it,” said Lorente.
–Katrina M. Mendolera
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