Journalism schools are ripe for experimentation. They’ve got students excited about the future of the industry, professors free from the profit pressures of a newsroom, and all the resources of a university.
But at the same time, there are two obvious problems with running an online news project out of a j-school: the cost (nothing’s free, even if you don’t need to turn a profit) and the doldrums of summer (universities might go dark, but the Internet doesn’t.) A few journalism programs are taking on these problems with a surprising semi-solution: high school students.
New York University’s new hyperlocal news site, The Local East Village, run in partnership with The New York Times, is starting a summer 2011 program that will both shore up content and generate income for the young project. The students will pay tuition — around $4,000 a course when you look at cost-per-unit — to participate. If their work is good enough, it’ll appear on the site and help the void that comes from summertime on the academic calendar. Publication isn’t guaranteed.
“We have a lot of ambition for the site and it’s not free,” Brooke Kroeger, the director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, told me. “It’s not costless…What I find exciting about [the East Village site], rather than creating a center or a separate little institute, or something that is apart from what we do, this has been fully integrated into our curriculum — even the summer, which isn’t always the case,” Kroeger said.
The New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University is also experimenting with a summer high school program. This summer they launched a two-week program for high schoolers interested in learning the craft of investigative reporting.
“It certainly fit our mission,” said Joe Bergantino, the director of the center, explaining that they are expected to not only produce investigative work for news outlets, but train the next generation of investigative journalists. “It’s an obvious thing to do and an important thing to do.”
This year 39 high school students participated, paying $900 per weeklong session. In the first week, students learned database reporting and other investigative techniques. In the optional second week, most students continued working on a story they selected, or did research work for the reporters at the Center. “That tuition is used to fund our work at the Center,” Bergantino said.
High school journalism programs aren’t new, although using profits from them to support news outlets is a twist. At Northwestern, Medill has long had a program called the National High School Institute that attracts top-tier high schoolers likely to pursue journalism in college. But the money raised from the program goes back to supporting it, rather than other Medill projects, according to Roger Boye, director of the program. The return comes in recruitment: Last year, 22 of the 83 participants, known as “Cherubs,” went on to enroll at Northwestern University after graduating high school.
“If the school benefits, that’s how they’re benefiting,” Boye said.