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Dec. 15, 2011, 9 a.m.

Knight funds collaborative reporting center in Georgia

The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University will bring together students, newspaper and public media reporters in one newsroom.

The Knight Foundation is launching a new program at Mercer University designed to prepare journalists, both aspiring and employed, how to perform their craft in an increasingly interdependent industry.

The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer will partner students from the school’s journalism and media studies program with journalists from The (Macon) Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting. Knight is investing $4.6 million over several years into the initiative, which will put students and professionals in the same newsroom to cover news from Macon and the rest of central Georgia. The aim is a two-fold benefit: giving students experience in live reporting and providing both news outlets with additional bodies to support their newsgathering. You may remember Knight’s Eric Newton in these pages describing his aspirations for a model that combines student learning with civic benefit:

What if universities turned their growing numbers of journalism and mass communication students loose on that unused local news capacity? If medical students can cure people as they learn to be doctors, why can’t more journalism students inform and engage communities as they learn to be professionals?

The arrangement follows many other efforts that combine for-profit newsrooms and non-traditional journalism producers. As staffs are reduced through layoffs and budgets shrink some news organizations have partnered with nonprofits, some have arranged story-sharing agreements for an informal newswire. Mercer joins a growing number of colleges and universities that are collaborating with news organizations in an attempt to give students a balance between academia with the real world. Think teaching hospital: Mercer’s medical school is affiliated with two, so there’s already an on-campus example of blending pedagogy and practice.

“The reason I think this is special is we have three strong partners who are civic minded and want to create the future of news and information,” said Beverly Blake, Knight’s program director in Macon.

That Knight has a program director in Macon is evidence of another reason for the collaboration: Macon is one of 26 cities where Knight gives special emphasis on local philanthropy — one of eight where it has a local program director. The reason: They’re cities where Knight Newspapers once owned the local daily, in this case The Telegraph.

A good portion of the money will be used to build out a physical space for the center on the Mercer campus. Blake told me the program will begin in earnest in fall 2012, when journalists from The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting move into a new shared newsroom. Mercer’s journalism and media studies department currently has around 50 students, Blake said, which they aim to increase to 100 soon.

Disclosure: Knight Foundation is a funder of the Nieman Journalism Lab.

POSTED     Dec. 15, 2011, 9 a.m.
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