Collaboration with student journalists is a way forward for local newspapers

How students can help supplement news coverage at local institutions

As local newspapers face financial and circulation pressures, newsrooms across the country are adopting an “all hands-on deck” strategy. A good example is how local news organizations are working with student journalists to find and develop talent that can help make up for missed spots in local news coverage.

Many of the collaborative efforts involve news organizations working with universities to teach investigative journalism skills as well as real-world experience in writing and publishing stories. As an example, the Colorado Media Project, a news collaborative of nine different news organizations, includes students from Colorado College and the University of Denver. The project explores new ways of teaching journalism and has created a digital database that identifies areas in the state that lack a local news source.

Colorado College’s Journalism Institute, for instance, will start a class called “The Future and Sustainability of Local News.” It will focus on teaching students on how to actively help in efforts to mitigate problems to the news industry. The University of Denver also is conducting research on the project titled “Mapping and Engaging Allies to Build Colorado’s Local News Future.” Both initiatives involve student interaction as they gather information to create digital databases and map visualization that will help journalists and media entrepreneurs explore possibilities for story collaboration and new start-up ideas.

Similarly, the Dallas Morning News offers student journalists at the SMU Daily Campus fellowships to gain more real-life experience with a respected journalism organization. At the same time, the Morning News benefits from the input of technologically advanced younger journalists. Their knowledge is important as the Morning News, like other major newspapers, seeks a larger digital audience.

Tony Pederson, the Belo Foundation Endowed Distinguished Chair in Journalism at SMU, puts the experience this way: “Our students get serious instruction in all social media and use of metrics. The internet will continue to evolve and change how news is delivered. Being able to adapt to new delivery techniques and even new highly mobile platforms will be critical to understanding news and being a competent journalist in the future.”

Similarly, Sriya Reddy, a SMU alum who now writes for the Morning News, sums up the partnership this way: “I am really grateful to have the opportunity to be a fellow at the Dallas Morning News through SMU. That was my first experience in a professional newsroom, and I learned so much. Everything that I learned through the fellowship helped me get this job at the Dallas Morning News after graduation.”

Student journalists also help traditional news organizations gain unique perspectives about issues in multifaceted communities. In Philadelphia, the collaborative Resolve Philly involves student journalists from Temple University working with multiple organizations to find sources, create digital visualization models, and publish stories about the community.

This collaboration resulted in more in-depth coverage of the student COVID-19 experience, specifically looking at the difficulty applicants of Temple University went through during the college search process without being able to visit the campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece explores the uncertainty students experience in planning their future with no assurances that their college experiences would look as before.

These examples are among others that suggest why local newspapers should consider partnering with school newspapers. That includes private and public universities as well as community colleges. Local journalism’s future, after all, is only as promising as the next generation of local journalists.

Izzah Zaheer is a senior at Southern Methodist University, where she is a Tower Scholar and writes for The Daily Campus. She served as a Bush Institute Human Freedom Initiative intern in the fall of 2021.