The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting are planning to turn their Macon journalism operations into teaching newsrooms in a novel undertaking that, come next fall and thereafter, will have professional reporters often working with and training Mercer University students.
To be housed at Mercers under-construction Center for Collaborative Journalism, the idea for the joint educational and business venture led to the awarding of a multimillion-dollar grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The Telegraph will move its editorial staff -- which produces news, sports, features and opinion pages -- from Broadway in downtown to a new building adjacent to the Mercer campus. The new office will be near the intersection of Coleman and Montpelier avenues, amid a development of eateries and apartments, on the first floor of Phase II of the Lofts at Mercer Village.
Telegraph Publisher George McCanless said the unique collaboration has been in the works for a while. The Knight Foundations approval of the grants to Mercer and GPB earlier this week made it official.
There is no other arrangement like this in the country. ... You have a university, a daily newspaper and public broadcasting in the same newsroom. That has never been done, McCanless said Wednesday.
He likened the move to a medical schools affiliation with a teaching hospital.
The students and faculty, just like in a medical school, work side by side with the professional journalists at The Telegraph and GPB, just as in the medical school they work with the medical professionals, McCanless said.
The rest of the newspapers departments, including circulation and advertising offices, will remain downtown at 120 Broadway. Plans call for eventually moving those offices to other locations and leasing or selling the Broadway building.
More details of the Mercer venture are expected to be announced Thursday.
Its not been a well-kept secret that the university and The Telegraph and GPB have been discussing for two years now a joint initiative, but in terms of the specifics of where that stands right now, were gonna reserve that for tomorrow, Larry Brumley, Mercers chief of staff, said Wednesday. I do believe (Thursdays) announcement is gonna be exciting for Macon and for the College Hill corridor and for the university.
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a journalism study center in Florida, said the newspapers move to a campus setting strikes me as a promising idea.
I dont know of another arrangement like this, Edmonds said. It may be the first or one of the first. ... As newsrooms have grown smaller and, indeed, as the whole papers get quite a lot smaller, very typically theyre in ... a big building in downtown and they dont really need that space.
Telegraph Executive Editor Sherrie Marshall said that as the news business reinvents itself, journalists need to be instrumental in creating a new future.
One way is to find compatible partners, who share our values, to help us engage readers in different ways on multiple platforms, Marshall said in a statement. Our goal with this partnership is to harness our collective resources to elevate community and civic journalism, involve and engage more citizens, readers, listeners, web and mobile users, and provide a unique learning environment for both new and seasoned journalists.
George Harmon, an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago, deemed the three-entity endeavor a resourceful move. Its innovative, and its gonna be good for the students and good for the readers. ... It seems like a win-win, said Harmon, who was once part of a journalism-school program at Northwestern that sent interns to The Telegraph. You guys can give practical training to the students, and you get a little help. Hopefully it makes the paper more viable as a business organization.
The only possible problem that comes to my mind is what happens when you, if, God forbid, Harmon said, you have a scandal at the university, and the university makes the poor judgment of trying to stifle the news. As long as the publisher always makes the university .... aware that were gonna cover this university the same way wed cover Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia. As long as everybody understands that.
The Telegraphs McCanless said the paper wont be compromising its editorial independence.
Just as Mercers management, Mercers president doesnt go sit down there (at The Medical Center of Central Georgia) and get involved in diagnosis and treatment decisions, theyre not going to be involved in the news and editorial decisions, he said.
The teaching-hospital business model of news gathering has for some time been thought of as one of the ways to keep journalism alive, University of Georgia journalism professor Barry Hollander said, especially journalism thats focused at the local level.
As the news gathering landscape changes in the digital age and as traditional business models becomes less viable, he said, connecting with colleges may be advantageous -- for news organizations and schools.
Hollander said colleges with smaller journalism programs may be better suited for such unions as they can be more agile.
In some ways, he said, this is a very smart way to attack the problem. If you want to marry, collaborate with two or three different organizations -- a journalism school and a couple of different journalism outlets -- in some ways its easier to do with a smaller, more nimble program the size of Mercer than it would for, say, UGA to do. ... Thats whats kind of exciting about this. It allows a small program to adapt and innovate. ... Its cool.
Hollander said the energy infusion that student journalists might bring to a traditional newsroom will be a plus, as long as the students enthusiasm is directed. Rather than just bringing interns into your paper, where we bring you in and we train you the way to do it, this kind of a format will be a little bit more of a let us teach you while you teach us kind of a situation, Hollander said.
Now will you get good journalism from this? You will get interesting journalism. ... The thing about the Knight grants is that its not just lets collaborate, but lets find new ways to make the news interesting and relevant to the people out there. ... Whether or not you can make this work is a different matter.