behind the news

News organizations are the new journalism schools

Politico and Condé Nast will soon be training rookies
June 17, 2014

Politico and Condé Nast are entering the j-school business. Last week, Politico announced the creation of a 10-day Journalism Institute for college students, while Condé Nast is in talks to set up academic programs involving its magazines, including Wired and Gourmet. As journalism schools increasingly try to connect classrooms with newsrooms to ensure students will have the right skills in a fast-changing job market, news organizations are doing the same from the opposite end.

Rick Berke, executive editor at Politico and former New York Times reporter, said the outlet’s Journalism Institute was inspired by a similar program at the Times. “I was very impressed with what it produced in terms of identifying the next generations of really smart young journalists,” Berke said, though he added that the intention wasn’t to hire the institute’s graduates. Still, he remained open to the possibility that the writing, editing, and photography training offered to college juniors and seniors would make them strong candidates for Politico jobs.

“Ideally, we’ll be able to identify students that could come back and work for Politico. That would be terrific,” he said. Politico will be paying for the students’ accommodation and expenses, and sees the institute as “a good opportunity internally for our journalists to give back and mentor upcoming talent,” adding that “there’s no kind of profit motive at all.”

With journalism foundations calling for “the reform of journalism and mass communication education,” and academics questioning if journalism schools are teaching students the right skills, it’s hardly surprising that news outlets are more interested in training rookies. After all, many working reporters are also adjunct journalism school professors–setting up an academic program is just one step further. But 10 days’ training will probably give students only the most basic introduction to political reporting, and it’s difficult to say how effective Condé Nast’s program will be without knowing which universities and schools will be involved.

While Politico reporters and editors will be mentoring the 10 students selected for the institute, the outlet is also partnering with American University’s School of Communication and the Maynard Institute to help build the program’s curriculum. Berke said that the Maynard Institute would help Politico reach a diverse network of candidates and advisers, and that diversity was extremely important to the program. The Journalism Institute will “not only to help diversify Politico, but all newsrooms,” he said. “It may take a long time, but we see it as an investment to help diversify the newsrooms that cover Washington and the government.”

Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute, said the organization was happy to partner with Politico since “our focus has always been on diversifying the nation’s news media.” The Institute has trained hundreds of minority journalists through its workshops and residential programs, and Maynard pointed to a recent panel of current and former Washington journalists–where panelists argued that the White House press corps doesn’t reflect the country’s diversity–as proof that programs like the Politico Institute are needed. “Without diversity in the newsroom, we sometimes run the risk of giving inaccurate and distorted information to our communities,” she said.

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While Politico is already accepting applications for its program, Condé Nast’s is still in its early stages. The publisher, backed by investment firm University Ventures, is working with various colleges to develop certificate and master’s degree courses, with the goal of launching in late 2015. Condé Nast declined to give further details.

Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu