YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — Faced with an increase in journalism majors and the general decay of legacy media coverage in the Mahoning Valley region of northern Ohio, Youngstown State University journalism professors Alyssa Lenhoff and Tim Francisco created The News Outlet, a collaborative effort between the university and several local media outlets. The founders hoped the site’s journalism would not only fill a hole in local coverage but also build a new generation of multimedia-savvy student reporters.
- Read more about The News Outlet
Launched in January 2011, the site not only exists as a news outlet in its own right, but also as a feeder to local news outlets such as The Vindicator, Youngstown’s largest daily paper, and WYSU-FM, the local NPR affiliate. Besides taking six student interns from Youngstown State, The News Outlet has expanded to add two student interns each from nearby Kent State University and the University of Akron. All of the interns are compensated for their work. “It meets so many objectives,” Lenhoff says. “Many of our students are first generation college students and have to choose between working a job or an internship.” Interns receive a $2,000-per-semester stipend, as well as the option for course credit.
Lenhoff estimates that operating The News Outlet costs between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. Much of this is covered through a grant from the Raymond John Wean Foundation, as well as contributions from the participating universities and a Knight Information Challenge grant. The local media pitches in with their time and knowledge: reporters and editors work with the interns, providing edits on their pieces and helping them shape their coverage.
“We’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work with college-age folks,” says Todd Franko, editor of The Vindicator. “With dwindling resources among today’s legacy media, we’re looking for assistance.” Franko also says the relationship with The News Outlet is helpful in providing new media content for his paper’s website.
Franko estimates he’s up on campus at least once a week, helping the interns craft their coverage. One particular piece that he holds up as an example of the program’s success is an in-depth investigation conducted by student journalist Dan Pompili on a home for the mentally-challenged. Pompili’s examination turned up some startling evidence: two men had died in the facility under questionable circumstances and the facility’s former human resources director had been engaged in a sexual relationship with one of the mentally incompetent residents. Conditions were so unsanitary in the facility that state inspectors immediately moved to shut the home down following the story’s release.
Lenhoff says that interns aren’t provided with technical training, but are highly encouraged to use multimedia in their coverage. “They approach each story thinking ‘Which medium might be best to tell the story?’” she says. Students produce web video, photo slideshows, print coverage, and broadcast-quality productions for television and radio. The coverage ranges from intricate investigations to lighter features; the content rollout varies from daily to weekly depending on the size of the stories the staff is working on at any given time.
Lenhoff is confident that The News Outlet is not just producing news content, but also is breeding the next generation of multi-platform journalists; previous interns have gone on to positions with C-SPAN and multimedia positions at regional papers.
As of May 2011, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Canton Repository, Ohio Public Radio, and Rubber City Radio have all joined as media partners. What started as an experiment modeled after similar collaborations in large media markets is growing quickly and providing northeastern Ohio with in-depth journalism with a new media flourish.
The News Outlet Data
Name: The News Outlet
Principal Staff: Alyssa Lenhoff, co-director and faculty; Tim Francisco, co-director and faculty; Karl Idsvoog, contributing faculty; Val Pipps, contributing faculty.
Affiliations: Content: The Vindicator; WYSU-FM; The Beacon Journal; The Canton Repository; Rubber City Radio; Ohio Public Radio. Community Foundation Support: Raymond John Wean Foundation.
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