Sunday, March 7, 2010

College Journalists Gaining Upper Hand in Campus Coverage

Where once college journalists competed against the pros to see who could best shine a spotlight on what was happening on campus, it now appears they may have to beat all to themselves.

An interesting new story on Huffington Post notes that cutbacks in mainstream journalism means one of the areas that isn't getting the professional coverage it once did is college campuses. Not only is this leaving the territory open for college journalists to fill the void, but it's also giving university officials more leverage to spin the news by providing their own "coverage" of higher education in the form of news releases and staff-written feature stories that newspapers, radio news bureaus and television stations are only too eager to air and publish.

I've also seen reports about a growing number of college interns and part-timers being hired to fill the ranks of a declining number of pro journalists as a cost-saving measure.

The Huffington Post article by Daniel Reimold notes:
As the professional press compresses and its original content wanes, student news media are rising to a place of uber-importance, specifically with respect to higher education reporting. Even with the hurdles of a learning curve, competing academic and extracurricular commitments, lack of resources, and occasional censorship or pressure from their host institutions, student journalists are providing coverage that greatly expands upon the deplorable 1 percent quota the professional press is currently churning out.

And they are using their student status to their advantage -- including their close proximity to campus news events and newsmakers and their inbred new media know-how -- to grab exclusives and report with extra innovation.
As with anything, these changes in the industry can be viewed with alarm or optimism. On the one hand, it gives college journalists an opportunity to serve a new audience that isn't getting what it needs in the form of campus news coverage. Those "lucky" enough to land internships and other gigs will look back on these opportunities and be thankful for the experience they gained.

On the flip side, mainstream media appears to be hoping it can get by on the cheap by replacing experienced journalists with coterie of young journalists who may or may not be ready for prime time. And you have to wonder if readers aren't getting short-changed when big-money campus institutions no longer get the scrutiny and attention that once made them one of the plum beats in many U.S. newsrooms.


(Photo credit: "Graduation, Spring 2007, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications" by adobemac, courtesy of and Creative Commons)

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