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July 1, 2010, 10:15 a.m.

When a journalism gig is paid for by outsiders

In the sea of good pieces last week about the Dave Weigel imbroglio, his own explanation of events stood out. And there was one paragraph that particularly interested me:

In 2004, when I was graduating [from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism], I was offered two jobs — an editing role at the libertarian magazine Liberty and a fellowship at USA Today, sponsored by the conservative Collegiate Network. I chose the USA Today job, but kept freelancing, mostly for magazines like The American Spectator and Reason.

I was familiar with the Collegiate Network from my own college days; it funded a conservative publication on campus, and that’s what I thought the extent of their work was. But I didn’t realize that it also pays for journalists to work at mainstream news organizations. So I contacted USA Today and got this reply from spokesperson Elga Maye:

We’ve had Collegiate Network interns — including Weigel — working with the paper’s editorial board for several years. They participate in board discussions, their primary daily duty is fact-checking, and their work (like that of all interns) is closely supervised. Toward the end of their internships, some have written editorials reflecting the board’s consensus or, less frequently, bylined op-ed pieces reflecting their own point of view. Their value to us — apart from their labor — is to add another voice, young and conservative, to the diversity of perspectives we already have on an ideologically mixed editorial board.

In that context, the fact that they have a strong point of view — their own, not the Collegiate Network’s — is an asset. We’d gladly take a qualified intern from a liberal organization on the same terms if we were aware of such a program.

The Collegiate Network describes these jobs as year-long fellowships, with stipends of $24,000 to $30,000 paid by CN, and along with USA Today lists Roll Call among outlets where it’s placed journalists. Their Wikipedia page also lists a wide variety of conservative publications and outlets, but also US News & World Report. The application form also lists the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the News & Observer, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and my old paper The Dallas Morning News — although that form doesn’t differentiate between summer internships and the year-long fellowships. And based on this post, fellows aren’t just on the editorial board — they’re also writing news stories.

We normally don’t write about issues of media bias here — we leave that to the 10 million other people out there who write about media bias — so I didn’t pursue this any further. Go make your own calls! But given what some journalists have argued recently about the proper role of ideology and opinion in a newsroom — which is to say, no role — it’s an interesting data point that a political group is paying the salaries behind some of the bylines you see.

POSTED     July 1, 2010, 10:15 a.m.
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