Journalism students writing for newspapers, need sources

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Theo Keith, pictured above from a detail of a screenshot of his blog, is a journalism student at the University of Missouri. (Credit:

With journalism’s evolution and the economic crunch, traditional news media outlets – both print and broadcast – have been relying on citizen bloggers, donated photos and video, and reader tips.  Even journalism schools have arrangements with newspapers, websites and broadcast stations, trading student produced work for career experiences and content.

Most recently, USA Today reported Sept 21 announcing that AOL’s and some journalism schools have joined together in a new program dubbed PatchU.

Under PatchU, journalism students exchange “free labor” to with college credit.  The students will provide writing, photos, editing, social media and more. 

In this context, journalism student concerns about problems in their reporting are suddenly relevant for the mainstream press.       

Journalism Student Working for Broadcast Station Gives Tips for Fellow Students

Theo Keith, a senior broadcast journalism and political science student at the University of Missouri, blogged Sept. 5 that sourcing has been a problem for student journalists for more than 100 years.

Dating the problems to 1908, Keith opined that student journalists are stretched thin and not necessarily devoting their energies to one beat.  As a result, it’s difficult for them to build up sources. Walter Williams claims to have started the first journalism school in 1908 — at the University of Missouri.

Keith, for example, explained that while he’s “in newsrooms four days a week,” he spends “this time doing about 10 different things instead of working a beat.”  Sometimes he’s editing, helping other reporters, writing, learning, anchoring, and so on.

Because reporters are so busy during each shift, Keith noted that it’s hard to devote time to creating relationships with sources.

But, “Think about the consequences,” Keith blogged. “When a source doesn’t know you, you won’t get the money quote. The spokesman won’t give you the newsmaker. No one will trust that you’ll get the story right. Unless you search the story archives, you don’t know if what a source tells you is new information or something that went public months ago. It’s harder to break news — because first, you have to make people comfortable enough to tell you things that aren’t public.”

In an e-mail to StinkyJournalism, Keith wrote that some of these assignments are part of his program at the University of Missouri.

“Most of my fellow broadcast students and I work at KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate in mid-Missouri,” Keith wrote.  “It’s my understanding we’re the only school that owns and operates a network affiliate, and our program involves staffing the station as reporters, fill-in anchors and producers, and online content editors. It makes us unique — and it also makes us very busy!”

Outside of his work at KOMU, Keith wrote that he also is a state Capitol reporter for a St. Louis news radio station and managing editor at his school’s campus radio station.

Keith blogged that he tries to develop sources and build relationships to help break news stories. “Sometimes, as we try to interview compelling people to give a human voice to stories, we forget about the most important thing: the news. And that’s why I’m trying to interview as many newsmakers as I can on my beats.”

Asked for any advice for student journalists working to develop sources, Keith wrote in an e-mail to StinkyJournalism that focusing on a specific beat has given him “success in developing sources.”

“Because I report for KMOX and KOMU at the state Capitol, I’ve been able to form source relationships with lawmakers and other officials, as well as the spokespeople for various departments. If you can’t work your way onto a beat, I’d advise at least finding a topic you like covering. Then, find the people who are most important to that topic, and get to know them and the issues they care about.”

He also advised “opening up about yourself” to sources because it helps them “remember you next time you’re calling for an interview.”

More journalism school media deals

Twice in the 2010 The New York Times has partnered with journalism schools for content.  In January, College Univ. of New York (CUNY) announced that its graduate journalism school would “assume editorial leadership” of The NY Times’ The Local, a community website the school had worked with since March 2009.

NYU professor Jay Rosen blogged on his site Press Think in February of this year detailing “NYU’s Collaboration with the New York Times.”

Rosen noted that the two would work together on its own Times’ hosted community news The Local site, dubbed The Local: East Village. “The site will be edited and produced at NYU,” Rosen added.

Nieman Lab wrote in March noting that the NYU collaboration took the CUNY-Times collaboration a step further, as NYU students would treat the East Village Local site as “a true startup, as students and faculty work to build, design, and learn to maintain the site from the ground up.”

College OTR, a network of campus-specific blogs, reported in May 2008 when ABC News started using student produced content on air via “ABC News on Campus” program.  Journalism students from five schools — Arizona State Univ., Syracuse Univ., Univ. of Florida, Univ. of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and Univ. of Texas – Austin — provided content for ABC News in exchange for experience and a paycheck.

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Journalism students writing for newspapers need sources

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