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Amy S. McCombs

Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies
University of Missouri at Columbia
Columbia, Mo
Personal Website


Amy McCombs will apply her media management experience to the exploration of sustainable business models, to the innovative application of emerging technologies, and the impact the models and technologies will have on a free press.


Professor McCombs, experienced as a chief executive with board experience in the media, higher education, and nonprofit sectors, became the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies in fall 2010. Joining in a part-time capacity she will become full-time in fall 2011.

McCombs spent the majority of her career in media with executive management responsibilities at both the Chronicle Publishing Company in San Francisco and the Broadcast Division of the Washington Post Company. The broadcast, cable, and Internet properties she managed were all recipients of the industry’s major journalism awards and recognitions.

McCombs serves on the Advisory Board of Media Convergence Group, a digital media innovator combining news content with emerging technologies including social media, online video, mobile distribution, and search. She is actively engaged with MCG’s digital media start-up,, a multi-perspective online video news site that monitors, synthesizes and presents the world's news. In addition to her role at the Missouri School of Journalism, Amy McCombs is a Professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri.

McCombs has been included in the San Francisco Business Times 50 Most Influential Business Women in the Bay Area and is the recipient of numerous media awards and honors including the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism and the First Amendment Freedom Award from B'Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League.

McCombs is actively involved in professional associations as well as national and local cultural organizations. She has spoken extensively at conferences and symposia on technology and the media. McCombs holds a master's degree in journalism and bachelor's degrees in political science and journalism, all from the University of Missouri. McCombs continued her education at the senior executive program of Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and the National Association of Broadcasters General Management Program at the Harvard Business School, Harvard University.

Grant Background

Because stable democracies require a free-press system and because the need for citizens to understand their free-press rights is greater than ever before, the Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies shall be established. The Chair shall focus on teaching and scholarship on free-press issues as they affect the citizens of democratic societies, recognizing that citizens need to learn about their rights and how to use them.

The Lee Hills Chair shall keep its sight on the important goal of helping citizens understand that, while the First Amendment and other protections of free expression benefit the media, the ultimate and most important beneficiaries of a free press are the citizens of democratic societies. The Chair shall conduct a program of teaching, research and dissemination aimed at illuminating and explaining the importance of free-press issues and policies to individual citizens of democratic societies.

Recent Activities

Expanding audiences for the Global Journalist: The Lee Hills Chair has responsibility for the Global Journalist, a multimedia news product, newsroom, and related course that give students an opportunity to fine-tune their 21st century journalism skills as they report on global issues for a global audience and as they explore the challenges to free-press around the world.  Through the continued expansion of content, the use of digital and social media platforms, and the introduction of community outreach programs and live events, audiences for the Global Journalist grew substantially over the past year. 

The Global Journalist’s expansion was recognized by the cable industry.  Its Alliance for Community Media(ACM) named the Global Journalist the national winner in its Independent Producer News Category.  A Global Journalist Reporting Project was developed for the Summer 2012 semester.  The project took undergraduate and graduate students to South Korea to study the history, culture, and geo-political issues of the Korean Peninsula and to cover the East-West Center’s International Media Conference.  The coverage of geo-political issues, technology, and journalism was distributed through the Center’s media outlets and the Global Journalist media platforms to audiences around the world.  Lee Hills Chair funds provided grants to students and faculty that participated in this project. Planning is underway for a 2014 Reporting Project in Myanmar.

Supporting the role of journalists:  The Lee Hills Chair and the Missouri School of Journalism continued its four-year partnership with the East-West Center with programs funded by the U.S. Embassies in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Seoul, South Korea. The programs were designed to increase Pakistani and Korean journalists knowledge of the U.S. and to explore journalism principles and the role of media in society.   The Korean journalists were former residents of North Korea and are now working in digital, print, and broadcast media in Seoul.  Journalism School faculty and students were included in this program giving them an opportunity to interact with journalists from countries and regions currently in the headlines.  Both partnerships resulted in news content for the Global Journalist’s platforms.

The Lee Hills Chair partnered with the Eurasia Foundation and its “Common Stories Project.”  The initiative teams a Russian and U.S. journalist on a common topic or issue.  Several teams of reporters will participate.  The resulting reporting projects will be published as a Global Journalist e-book in late 2013.  This is the Global Journalist’s first e-book and will be released through Reynolds Journalism Institute Digital News Books. 

Expanding the understanding of the impact business models and public policy have on the free flow of information: Exploratory research discussions began with the Truman School of Public Affairs.  Both TSPA and the Journalism School have been researching broadband issues and have an opportunity to expand the discussion on this important topic in 2014.                  This issue was highlighted at the Journalism School’s 2011 symposium focused on the FCC’s report on the information needs of communities.  The Lee Hills Chair co-chaired this symposium.

The Lee Hills Chair’s co-teaches a MBA/MA course, “Management and Entrepreneurship and Media of the Future.”  The course matches business and journalism students with media properties that have specific business model issues.  The Chair is able to apply her industry, management and technology experiences and guide the students as they develop recommendations and strategies for their clients.

Chair Response to Questions

Name one experiment or idea (a tool, an approach, a book) in journalism, journalism education or media innovation that is “out there” -- pushing the frontier. Why do you think that project is interesting? Add detail if you plan to incorporate it in your teaching ?

Context and background are two of the most difficult areas to include in the coverage of a breaking story and particularly when the platform is video or broadcast.  Misha Leybovich ( is addressing this problem with Meograph (, a four-dimensional storytelling platform that is quick and easy to use. Leybovich is a 2013-14 Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow and will be exploring journalism’s use of this technology, the market for his company, and business models.  The Global Journalist will implement the technology in 2014.  This will give Missouri Journalism School students an opportunity to explore new ways of covering complex, evolving issues and stories.  This is a technology that can be applied in the education sector.

We define the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education as a system of learning by doing where students, scholars and professionals fully engage with the community they are serving by using innovative tools, techniques and informed research. Do you agree with that definition? If so, how should journalism schools seek to add community engagement and experimentation to the kind of journalism they now produce ?

I agree that journalism education should include a system of learning by doing where students, scholars, and professionals fully engage with the community they are serving by using innovative tools, techniques and informed research.  I do  not agree with calling this a “teaching hospital model.”   A research/teaching hospital has a totally different pedagogy and research frameworks that include rigid protocols and procedures.  These highly regulated and monitored institutions are cautious by design and struggle with the concept of innovation.   Journalism education must encourage innovation and remove the fear of risk-taking.  The quickening pace of change in the news/information sector demands it.  

Journalism schools must continue to teach critical thinking, journalistic standards, intellectual curiosity, and I am becoming convinced that writing and editing skills are more important in the digital age than ever.   A recent presentation by a successful high-tech entrepreneur stressed that 21st Century skills for success were writing skills and an enough programming and coding skills “to build something.”  It is not enough to have an idea, it must be executed and communicated.

The approach Knight advocates for journalism education is called the “Missouri Method.”  Walter Williams founded the Missouri School of Journalism 105 years ago with a conviction that journalism students needed to learn by doing.  He believed that journalism students needed to dive into the competitive, real world of journalism through a competitive morning newspaper, The Missourian.

This continues today as students produce content for a nationally recognized NPR affiliate, for a NBC television stations, for an online-first community newspaper, for a global focused multi-platform news and issues focused Global Journalist, and at an ad agency specializing in youth and young adult audiences providing services to major corporations and brands.  

The bottom-line is that students need to be engaged in the competitive real world.  Classroom projects and working within a protected university “bubble” will not prepare students for this digital age that has no barriers to entry, that is rapidly evolving, or for the consumer who is daily re-defining the news she wants and how she wants to receive it.

Many journalism schools do not have this unique portfolio of media properties, but Missouri provides a success story that journalism schools can use to demonstrate to donors and partners the value of this model of journalism education.

A good example of this is Missouri Business Alert (MBA), a recent “start-up” within the Missouri School of Journalism. Financial and business news is greatly under-reported in Missouri.  With funding from the University, private donors, and the community, MBA was designed as an advertising and donor supported daily digital news product covering the issues important to the state of Missouri.  A business reporting class was designed to support the professional staff.  This class along with the involvement by Bloomberg News journalists and professionals has give Missouri students a unique opportunity to graduate with a deep understanding of business and finance, the skills needed to report on these important, complex, and global subjects, and a close-up view of the development of a sustainable business model.

Additional Links

@globaljourn on Twitter

Global Journalist on Facebook