Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

A first look at new Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon

April 10, 2012, 3:56 p.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Knight currently supports the Center for Collaborative Journalism in Macon, a unique community news and journalism training partnership aimed at improving news flows and engaging citizens. The following post, written by the center's new director, Tim Regan-Porter, provides highlights of several of the center's new efforts. It is crossposted from PBS Media Shift.

Tim Regan-Porterporter

April 1 marked my first month on the job as director of Mercer University's new Center for Collaborative Journalism. While the center doesn't open its doors until August, and the bulk of the program starts in late 2013, I already feel the pressure.

The vision established by Mercer, the Knight Foundation, and our media partners, The (Macon) Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting, could hardly be loftier -- not only establishing a new model for journalism education but also helping to transform local communities and save democracy itself. But it is the very audacity of that vision that, in two weeks' time, spun me around from plans to move to New York with my favorite magazine conglomerate to accepting an offer in Macon, Ga. (not long after telling my wife that Atlanta was "just too small" for me).

The ambition of the program is backed by $4.6 million in grants from the Knight Foundation and enabled by a unique collaborative arrangement between a liberal arts program, a public broadcaster and a daily newspaper. The center itself occupies the ground floor of a new development and houses the newsroom of The Telegraph, a McClatchy paper serving the region, and radio and television facilities for GPB. Students will take classes in the midst of a daily newsroom and radio station; some will even live in housing set aside for them above the center.

STUDENTS EMBEDDED IN NEWSROOMS

At the heart of the academic program is an adaptation of the medical school model of education. Students will train in a working newsroom, alongside professional journalists, throughout all four years of the program. Class projects will be integrated with the work of our media partners and the center's own digital news outlet (modeled after the University of North Carolina's reesenews).

Students will contribute to background research, shadow reporters, file reports, engage the community with social media, and perform most duties expected of a professional journalist. They will leave the program with a full portfolio of professional bylines, radio reports, and multimedia stories. This clinical model and high degree of collaboration offers students a truly unique experience.

MEDIA PARTNERS WORKING TOGETHER

Out of the gate, the community will benefit from the collaboration fostered in the center. GPBis tripling its local reporter presence and launching Macon Public Radio, making Macon the only community in Georgia, outside of Atlanta, to have significant locally focused public-radio programming. The university's journalism department is doubling its size and bringing in professionals skilled in digital media. And the combined efforts of The Telegraph and GPBallow for improved coverage.

The benefits of having a combined radio/newspaper newsroom were reinforced in a meeting with Dan Grech, news director at WLRN, which has a similar collaboration with The Miami Herald. (I believe we're the second outlet in the country to pursue this model.) Dan credits that collaboration with transforming WLRN's news department, allowing them to cover the area much better, with up to a four-fold increase in productivity. With all of the resources brought together by the center, we expect similarly transformational results.

COLLABORATING WITH THE CITIZENS OF MACON

While the collaboration of media partners and the university will fuel the center, I believe much of its success will depend on extending that collaboration. Students will need to leave the "Mercer bubble" to engage the community in new ways. Fortunately, that process began years ago, when Mercer went from an institution isolated by fences to a partner in the revitalization of, and a force for social justice in, Macon. The College of Liberal Arts implemented an experiential requirement, which often involves community service.

For our student journalists to provide value and learn the real work of local journalism, they will need to view Macon as more than a stopping point on their way elsewhere. It will need to be their home and its citizens their collaborators in providing information, highlighting issues, and crafting solutions. Part of the center's grant provides for and requires two major community engagement projects each year -- projects where we seek the community's input on the issues most important to it and then work with our partners to investigate and report on those issues in depth.

To read the rest of the post, view Mercer Center for Collaborative Journalism Aims to Put the 'Lab' in 'Collaborative' on PBS Media Shift