Culture of optimism around the future of news

Journalism / Article

Susan King is the dean and John Thomas Kerr Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Media and JournalismKnight Foundation is investing $3 million in a new research center at the university to explore new models in community journalism and to support the development of innovative digital media products for local news sites.

Susan King

Journalism students today are learning about tomorrow’s news industry in a culture of optimism.

More people are consuming news; more people are engaging with news.  

University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism students are preparing to write, edit, photograph, record and push the boundaries of storytelling.

The digital economics of newspapers and startups may not be clear, but that isn’t dampening enthusiasm.  Our Knight Chairs Penny Muse Abernathy and JoAnn Sciarrino are preparing students to analyze data, to explore changes in digital economics, to take risks and to understand the business proposition of change embedded in the mission of informing communities. These students get it, and they are not bowed by the uncertainty of making money around news. They are taking the challenge.  

Five of our women students and recent graduates just launched a multimedia news startup called Driven Media. They are veterans of our Reese News Lab’s innovations. Last week, they crowd-funded $50,000 for a six-month on-the-road trial test of their idea. They understand news, and they understand the business. They are willing to take risks.  

What builds a culture of optimism? In today’s media and journalism schools focused on tomorrow, it takes building a passion for what we at the University of North Carolina call “igniting the public conversation.” Whether our students choose to do traditional reporting, create multimedia stories and interactive platforms, write PR strategies for nonprofits or build advertising campaigns for companies, they are focused on the public square — the need for communities to engage in conversations that inform. 

As undergraduates, our students arrive armed with curiosity and a drive to build their capacity. Graduate students arrive determined to build a career and take a deep dive into their particular areas of interest. Both undergraduates and graduate students believe that the disruption in the news and information business of the last decade presents them the opportunity to fill the void with intelligence, knowledge, skills, practice and analysis.

That culture of optimism is something the school wants to share with our industry partners, our regional publishers, and editors and reporters who work every day to inform their communities—those who believe that journalism is about underpinning a robust democracy.

Knight Chairs Abernathy and Sciarrino are producing research that is revealing some answers, patterns of change and opportunities that can help news leaders endure and thrive. We will lead strategy sessions with these leaders to answer the question: How can we make money and engage and serve our communities?

We believe that a new Knight Foundation-supported center will give us stronger ties into today’s newsrooms. Innovative new products by our professors John Clark, Steven King and Ryan Thornburg need beta testing. We believe newsrooms can take our ideas and apps and work them into the daily news cycle. We will test those assumptions. We believe extending our lab experience to newsroom teams in regional news organizations will help spread the gospel of what is possible.

American journalism is in change. That is not headline news. But students graduating today are optimistic about all the change. It gives them the chance to develop ideas and skills that advance the mission of informing the public. 

We believe in the next four years that culture of optimism will be spread throughout North Carolina, across the South, and in news organizations that our center will touch. We are convinced this partnership with Knight will make the difference.