The CPB should require a minimum amount of local news reporting by every public radio and television station receiving CPB money, and require stations to report publicly to the CPB on their progress in reaching specified goals. The CPB should increase and speed up its direct funding for experiments in more robust and creative local news coverage by public stations both on the air and on their Web sites. The CPB should also aggressively encourage and reward collaborations by public stations with other local nonprofit and university news organizations.
National leaders of public radio and television who have been meeting privately to discuss news reporting should bring their deliberations into the open, reduce wasteful rivalries among local public stations, regional and national public media, and production entities, and launch concerted initiatives to increase local news coverage. The CPB should encourage changes in the leadership of public stations that are not capable of reorienting their missions.
Congress should back these reforms. In its next reauthorization of the CPB and appropriation of its budget, Congress should change its name to the Corporation for Public Media, support its efforts to move public radio and television into the digital age, specify public media’s local news reporting mission, and significantly increase its appropriation. Congress should also reform the governance of the reformed corporation by broadening the membership of its board with appointments by such nonpolitical sources as the Librarian of Congress or national media organizations. Ideological issues that have surfaced over publicly supported arts, cultural activities, or national news coverage should not affect decisions about significantly improving local news reporting by public media.
Universities, both public and private, should become ongoing sources of local, state, specialized subject, and accountability news reporting as part of their educational missions. They should operate their own news organizations, host platforms for other nonprofit news and investigative reporting organizations, provide faculty positions for active individual journalists, and be laboratories for digital innovation in the gathering and sharing of news and information.
In addition to educating and training journalists, colleges and universities should be centers of professional news reporting, as they are for the practice and advancement of medicine and law, scientific and social research, business development, engineering, education, and agriculture. As discussed earlier, a number of campuses have already started or become partners in local news services, Web sites and investigative reporting projects, in which professional journalists, faculty members and students collaborate on news reporting. It is time for those and other colleges and universities to take the next step and create full-fledged news organizations.
Journalists on their faculties should engage in news reporting and editing, as well as teach these skills and perform research, just as members of other professional school faculties do. The most proficient student journalists should advance after graduation to paid residencies and internships, joining fully experienced journalists on year-round staffs of university-based, independently edited local news services, Web sites, and investigative reporting projects.
As in many professional fields, integrating such practical work into an academic setting can be challenging. Although much basic news reporting is routine, enterprise and accountability journalism, which by definition bring new information to light, can grow into society-changing work not so dissimilar from academic research that makes original contributions to knowledge in history and the social sciences. The capacity of the best journalists to combine original investigation with writing and other communications skills can enhance the teaching and research missions of universities.
Funding for university news organizations should come from earmarked donations and endowments, collaborations with other local news organizations, advertising, and other sources. Facilities, overhead, and fund-raising assistance should be provided by the colleges and universities, as is the case for other university-based models of professional practice. Reporting on specialized subjects in which university researchers can offer relevant expertise in such fields as the arts, business, politics, science, and health could be assisted by faculty and students in those disciplines, funded in part by research grants, so long as independent news judgment is not compromised.
University news organizations should increase their collaboration with other local news nonprofits, including local public radio and television stations, many of which are owned by colleges and universities themselves and housed on their campuses. They also should collaborate with local commercial news media, providing them with news coverage and reporting interns, as some journalism schools and their news services do now. They should provide assistance for hyperlocal community news sites and blogs.
Universities should incubate innovations in news reporting and dissemination for the digital era. They could earn money for this from news media clients, as the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University does for research and development work for Gannett. Universities are among the nation’s largest nonprofit institutions, and they should play significant roles in the reconstruction of American journalism.