UNL receives $20,000 to study community news providers

As part of a $700,000 project to study community news issues raised by the FCC in its report “Information Needs of Communities,” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Texas at Austin will each receive $20,000 to study the effectiveness of journalism schools becoming community news providers.

Information Needs of Communities

Researchers at each university will study efforts to improve the quality and quantity of information in rural and other historically under-covered communities, particularly in Nebraska and Texas. The goal of the project is to produce a blueprint to help other universities across the country create and sustain community news operations that provide useful information to local residents.

The digital revolution has created new vehicles and opportunities for journalism, but at the same time has shattered the business models of traditional media organizations. The result, according to the FCC report, is more information than ever, but less local and state accountability reporting.

Journalism schools have sought to fill the vacuum by creating ambitious new courses and student-produced local news websites. The projects have the potential of significantly increasing the quantity and quality of watchdog journalism in under-covered communities, while at the same improving the quality of journalism education.

These ambitious efforts have mushroomed throughout the United States. Until now, however, few have been studied in depth to assess their structures and methods, the obstacles they face, the impact on their communities and the paths they may take as they evolve.

“The FCC has recognized that universities need to be an essential part of the community news environment. This is all the more true for universities in small cities and rural areas. We hope this research points the way for other universities to improve the information flow in their communities, too,” said Gary Kebbel, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“These projects are among the most innovative and promising in the journalism landscape,” said Glenn Frankel, director of the School of Journalism at UT Austin. “But they face many obstacles---lack of funding, lack of sustained coverage by students and at times lack of standards to ensure excellence. They are expensive and labor-intensive, and at time there may be conflicts between pedagogical goals and journalistic ones.”
Knight Foundation officials said they hoped the joint study would produce actionable steps and produce measurable improvements in local accountability journalism.

The two schools are among 12 universities convened by the Carnegie Corporation and Knight Foundation over the past five years to improve journalism education and raise the profile and contribution of journalism school deans and directors in the ongoing public debate over the future of journalism.

Texas and Nebraska will each study student journalism efforts in their respective states, then produce a joint white paper. Each university is also holding community public events featuring Steven Waldman, principle author of the FCC report, to discuss ideas for responding to the report’s recommendations.  

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.