Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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May 16, 2011, 2 p.m.

Columbia’s j-school will launch The New York World, its accountability-focused news site, this summer

Back in October, we reported on a new initiative at Columbia’s j-school: a standalone, year-round site that would be a destination for news from and about New York City. The project represented something of a departure for the school, which had previously maintained affiliated news sites primarily as distribution outlets for current students’ work. And yet the project’s broad goal was right in line with the mission that has guided the J-School since Joseph Pulitzer founded it: The site would produce journalism, Bill Grueskin, the school’s dean of academic affairs, put it, “that’s of real value to the community.”

When I spoke with Grueskin and Nick Lemann, the school’s dean, about the project last fall, many of the key details of the site — its specific coverage areas, its staff size, its name — were still to be determined.

But no longer. Today, the project is official, with a launch time of late summer 2011 and a spiffy name: The New York World (the same name, appropriately enough, as Pulitzer’s famous newspaper). It will employ up to six recent graduates of the school, who will serve as “post-doctoral fellows” (spiffy again!) and report to a to-be-hired editor. The site will also include the work of the J-School’s faculty and its current (as of launch time) students. In its content, New York World will focus on accountability journalism, with a particular emphasis on New York City government — though it’s possible, intriguingly, that at least one of the staffers will be assigned to Albany.

And while New York World will be, strictly speaking, a news site, it will also be a broader, context-focused and community-oriented destination for city information. It’s hiring Columbia graduates to serve as “multimedia reporters” and “data specialists” — which is to say that, hopefully, some neat experiments in dataviz and explanatory journalism await. The site will also be, in the manner of many of its accountability-focused fellow outlets, something of a news service, sharing stories, data, and other findings with other local news organizations.

As we noted in October, Columbia isn’t the first journalism school to be experimenting with semi-standalone news sites: NYU runs the The Local East Village in conjunction with The New York Times; CUNY’s J-school runs a network of Brooklyn-based neighborhood blogs (which also run on the Times’ site); Mizzou students staff the Columbia Missourian. And on and on. Each experiment deals in its own way with balancing the twin necessities of educating students in the conservatory model — mixing the freedom to experiment (creatively) with the freedom to fail (privately) — and of educating them in the communal realities of an increasingly digitized information marketplace. For Columbia, a site that focuses on accountability journalism — something that, as a product and a mindset, so neatly aligns with the J-School’s mission as an institution — strikes that balance almost (almost) implicitly.

As today’s release notes, New York World “will be an integral part of Columbia Journalism School.” Its editor will “engage faculty at the Journalism School and other university departments to bolster the content and authority of the site,” and, with site staff, “work closely with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism to innovate and produce effective ways to help citizens understand how their government works.” Which is, all in all, fantastic; if there’s one thing we know for sure about the journalistic moment we find ourselves in, it’s that the practice of journalism and the study of journalism have wisdom to share with each other. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how the branding implications of that deep integration play out as the site moves from an idea to a reality — and as the new New York World invents itself as an organization that is both of Columbia and distinct from it.

POSTED     May 16, 2011, 2 p.m.
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