News21 is an ambitious, innovative, important project, a multi-year investment by the Carnegie Corporation and Knight Foundation to help leading journalism schools allow their students the focused freedom to experiment with the sorts of content, presentation and delivery that might help rescue a struggling news industry.
It’s not the health of the news industry, per se, that is at stake, Carnegie and Knight leaders believe. Rather, it’s democracy that is in jeopardy, democracy that cannot thrive without a core of reliable, common, community-building information, reported by well-informed journalists. Training those journalists to apply new technologies and approaches to fundamental “traditional verification-journalism values” is critical and the impetus behind the foundations’ investments, Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibarguen has said.
Part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, News21 is organized around eight university “incubators,” summer newsrooms where the carefully selected News21 Fellows they are graduate students on leaves of absence during the paid, 10-week fellowships; post-grads and a small number of advanced undergrads work on intensive reporting projects, related to a broad national theme.
The summer reporting projects are preceded by a seminar at each university, so Fellows may study their News21 topic in depth, and enter their reporting already knowledgeable about their topic. (At Medill, instead, Fellows take Audience Insight class as a group, and then apply what they’ve learned about audience to formulate their topic. That is the critical difference to the Medill approach: Audience, not topic, comes first.)
During the summer, then, Fellows work with faculty members who generally are dedicated to the News21 projects, and who draw on their colleagues for specific types of skills and support. Each university’s News21 budget allows for Fellows’ travel, so most projects are national in scope.
The first incubators, with 10 Fellows each, went to work in 2006 at Northwestern University, Columbia University, University of California at Berkeley and University of Southern California. Harvard University, an associate school, sent students from the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy at its Kennedy School of Government to participate in incubators.
Pleased and optimistic after three summers of News21 and its other journalism-education projects, Carnegie and Knight committed another $11 million to expand the initiative and continue for an additional three years. Arizona State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Maryland and Syracuse University were added as incubator schools; University of Texas at Austin, University of Nebraska and University of Missouri were added as associate schools.
In the summer of 2009, 93 News21 Fellows worked on projects in the eight incubators, with their journalism fitting into an “Explorations in a Changing America” theme, and all encouraged and admonished: Investigate. Innovate. Collaborate.
It was a broad theme, but one that allowed coherence and focus across universities, but considerable independence. Similarly with the previous years’ themes: Liberty Versus Security in 2006. Faces of Faith in America in 2007. What’s at Stake: Election 2008
As News21 doubled in size after the 2008 summer projects, it took on greater, full-time organization, as well as aspirations to become an all-year program, with its web site showcasing dynamic content and becoming nationally recognized.
News21 is based at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in Phoenix. Its national director is Jody Brannon, formerly a leader at the online operations at MSN, Washington Post and USA Today, who earned a doctorate at University of Maryland.
The 2009 News projects:
Shift: A Diverse Generation Confronts Its Future
University of North Carolina
Powering a Nation: The Quest for Energy in a Changing USA
The Charter Explosion: Are Hybrid Schools Blowing Up the Public Education Model?
University of California at Berkeley
Intersections: Geographic and Cultural Crossroads in the Bay Area
University of Southern California
Southwestern Shifts: In-Depth Reporting and Storytelling about the Changing Communities, Economics and Attitudes of the American West
University of Maryland
The New Voters: Identity and U.S. Politics
Arizona State University
Latino America: Economic, Social, Cultural and Political Impact
The Young and the Wireless