News 21 and the Future of Journalism Education

[Source: News21, September 8, 2012]

In an open letter to university presidents, a group of foundations recently called for a turn to a "teaching hospital" model of journalistic training, advocating for a "model that blends practice with scholarship." News21, a program of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, represents a strong example of this new model. The program is helping to change the way journalism is taught in the U.S. and train a new generation of journalists capable of reshaping the news industry. It is headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Since 2006, nearly 500 top journalism students in the U.S. have participated in the landmark national initiative. Their work has appeared in major national publications, including The Washington Post,, the Center for Public Integrity and many others. It is also published on the website. The content is free under Creative Commons usage.

Students selected for the News21 program study a topic in-depth during a spring topics seminar, followed by a 10-week reporting fellowship during the summer. Students work out of a newsroom at the Cronkite School and travel the country – and sometimes to other countries – to report and produce their projects.

Students work under the direction of leading news veterans, including Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, and Steve Doig, Knight Chair in Journalism and an expert in computer-assisted reporting. Their work has been recognized with numerous awards from the Online News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of News Design, among others.

“News21 attracts top students from all over. It’s an all-star team. So yes, it wins awards,” said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the Knight Foundation. “But more important than the awards, we hope, will be its lasting impact, not just on journalism education or the notion of increased collaboration, but the impact of the stories themselves.”

Carnegie and Knight launched News21 in 2005 as a cornerstone of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. It began with five universities: the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, Harvard University, Northwestern University and the University of Southern California. Three years later, seven other schools were added: ASU, University of Maryland, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, University of North Carolina, University of Texas and Syracuse University.

In 2011, News21 was opened to all accredited journalism schools. New schools that joined the program in 2012 are Elon University, the University of Florida, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oregon.

Over the years, participating schools have produced projects on health, religion, senior citizens, energy, education, the economy, diversity and politics, among other topics. In addition, News21 students have produced national investigations on transportation safety and food safety in America over the past two years.

The 2012 national News21 project will bring two dozen top student journalists from 11 universities to Cronkite to conduct an investigation into the impact on American voters of recent extensive changes in election laws and voting procedures in many states.

News21-inspired projects also will take place this summer at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, the University of North Carolina, Columbia University, Northwestern University and the University of California at Berkeley. Each will have its own theme and approach, but all will demonstrate the same fundamentals as the national program: that top students and top professors can do the toughest stories in innovative ways, partnering with major news organizations.