Monday, August 19, 2019

Washington State J-school rural reporting project evaluates effect of community support on 'parachute' reporting

Washington State University map; click on the image to enlarge it.
Student journalists from Washington State University began an ambitious rural reporting project last October: to investigate whether community guidance and involvement can improve "parachute" reporting and create meaningful coverage in rural areas.

The project kicked off with a 48-hour "Rural Reporting Plunge," in which teams of four student journalists visited 12 small towns to covered local issues. Throughout the 2018-19 school year, more than 60 students traveled to 26 rural communities within 100 miles of the college in Pullman.

According to the report on the project, community members, news media, educators and students discussed the project at the Rural Journalism Education Roundtable in April 2019. Some key points:
  • Resources, particularly financial, are a major barrier to rural coverage. Small newspapers can't hire as many employees, and have trouble retaining reporters because of low pay.
  • Resources are also a barrier to professional collaboration with student journalists because it requires a lot of time to mentor students. Hiring one university employee to serve as an editor-advisors for student journalists could substantially increase how much student work is published in local media and improve learning outcomes for students. 
  • Rural journalism is a low priority in the news industry. Along with closing papers, closing bureaus, and ghost newspapers, universities often show disregard for rural and local news by praising alumni who work at large newspapers, urging talented students to pursue internships at big city newspapers, and choosing projects with national awards in mind rather than local information needs.
The Reporting Plunge was supported by the Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Teaching and Learning Endowment at WSU. The yearlong project was administered by the Online News Association with support from the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation

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