Over the past few months, I've had a chance to visit various campus media groups as part of our research project on newsrooms. And as I've noted before, I'm continually surprised at how dramatically behind the times many of these groups are.
Rather than closing the gap, it seems to me that these student groups are falling even further behind. There are a variety of reasons why this is happening, some of which are general, and some of which might be specific to certain organizations. But I see this is a big deal. These groups play a role that's at least as important as more formal journalism schools in training the next generations of journalists.
So what to do?
Something dramatic, and large scale needs to happen to change this dynamic. I propose that some foundation, or a network of foundations, needs to create a major initiative to fund the massive investment needed to transform these groups and revitalize them for the future. The needs include some things as straight forward as new equipment, facilities, and training. But they also need to include more programs to reward and encourage innovation and collaboration among these groups. And there's probably a role to play for a robust, national campus media organization to coordinate these efforts.
Starting with this last point: Yes, I'm aware there are several college journalism groups out there working on pieces of this. But I think there needs to be a single group solely focused on this issue, attacking it with the urgency it requires. In my mind, it looks something like the group Innovation in College Media put together by Bryan Murley and some other folks about 18 months ago. Only it needs far more resources.
One can also argue that groups like the Knight Foundation are more than doing their part. And I wouldn't disagree. The issue, I think, is that journalism schools are far more equipped to tap into such resources. And as a result, the schools that have realized they need to fundamentally change are also finding there are funding sources out there to help them.
But campus media groups are naturally dominated by students, who are two steps behind j-schools in this arena. First, they haven't generally recognized the need to radically re-think what they're doing. There's barely any time for most of them to learn how to do a podcast, let alone think about whether they need to reinvent their institutions. While some of these groups have advisors to help them think about these issues, many are still clinging to the way they've always done things.
Even if they "get it," they'll find their resources limited. Maybe they're independently funded. Or maybe they're funded through student fees, and so begging their university for resources and attention.
Whatever the case, these groups could use some help, before they fade away.