College Newsrooms

In Williamstown, a small college town in rural Berkshire County, Massachusetts, there are three county newspapers. But after the Berkshire Eagle shuttered its Northern Berkshires bureau in North Adams, Williamstown was left without a newspaper within 15 miles. A verifiable news desert. In the summer of 2020, the Williams College Record, the college’s student-run newspaper, stepped in and began covering town issues. What began as coverage of racial justice protests developed into years long coverage of misconduct in the Williamstown Police Department (WPD). Three years after their local coverage began, The Record now has a dedicated Town News Section complete with an editor and staff reporters. Their local news coverage consistently brings in more article clicks than any other section.

When the fentanyl crisis came to Riverside, students at Riverside City College’s student newspaper Viewpoints decided they had to do something. What resulted was a multi-award-winning investigative podcast series titled “Fentanyl Empire: The Inland Empire’s Latest Drug Crisis.” The series explored how the drug enters the regions, the effects it has on consumers, and solutions for the Inland Empire. This reporting exemplifies the power of having journalists cover their own communities. They know where to look for stories, what stories are most important, and what stories community members will respond to. In 2015, Viewpoints’s advisor Allan Lovelace said of their mission: “The student journalists place a premium on public service with their newspaper…that is one of their main goals.”

University-owned Newspapers

The Oglethorpe Echo has existed since 1874, and for much of that history it has been Oglethorpe County’s only newspaper. So, when it threatened to close its doors in 2021, panic set in. A plan was quickly devised to have nearby Grady College (the Journalism and Mass Communication School at the University of Georgia) supply journalism students to serve as the paper’s editors. The plan has worked with resounding success. In 2023 the Georgia Press Association awarded The Echo with nine section and individual awards. Its staff boasts 20 student editors, who are not only receiving an excellent hands-on education, but are also providing important local news coverage to Oglethorpe County.,

In 2009, amid the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession, the small town of Eudora, Kansas, lost its only newspaper, leaving a hole in community coverage. A decade later, journalism students have filled that hole. The students, consisting of undergraduate students at the University of Kansas, are reporters at The Eudora Times and have become the community’s source for reliable and timely local news. Founded in 2019, and run by a team of five to eight students, the online newspaper’s award-winning reporting has provided the community with established local government, business, sports and education beats. The newspaper launched in partnership with the University of Kansas William Allen White School of Journalism when Associate Professor Teri Finneman identified the community as a news desert and enlisted the help of journalism students to cover local news. The Eudora Times began as a one-semester social media project but has since grown and is now comparable to an extracurricular student media outlet. 

News-Academic Partnerships

The Dominion Post in Morgantown, West Virginia is almost as old as the state itself. Founded in 1864 as The Morgantown Weekly Post, it merged with The New Dominion in 1973 and currently serves as the only commercial daily newspaper in Morgantown, a city of 30,000. With a daily circulation of 19,681 it maintains a strong readership in the city and surrounding rural counties. On Fridays their paper contains a special insert: the entire weekly edition of The Daily Athenaeum, West Virginia University’s independent student newspaper. As currently constructed, this is a win-win for both student and professional paper. The insert drives web traffic to The Daily Athenaeum’s site where ad sales make up a portion of the paper’s revenue, and The Dominion Post provides more coverage to readers at no added cost since the college paper pays for the insert. Also benefiting here are the readers of The Dominion Post who gain more local news coverage, a different perspective of current events, and news from the university campus

Wisconsin Watch is a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news outlet based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each spring Wisconsin Watch gains another 20 or so reporters based in Professor Dee J. Hall’s investigative reporting class. Hall, a co-founder of Wisconsin Watch and longtime reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, teaches this course each spring, where students embark on a semester-long project to produce a series of investigative journalism pieces under Hall’s guidance. Topics range from food insecurity to rural healthcare, to marijuana legalization and to state policies for whistleblowers. These stories then appear on Wisconsin Watch’s website. Once Wisconsin Watch produces graphics, takes photos, edits, and distributes them, some stories are seen by millions of readers. A far greater reach than any student publication could regularly have.

High School Newsrooms

In 2023, Florida schools experienced changing state regulations regarding what was allowed to be taught in schools. While there was plenty of national and state level coverage of these changes, the best place to go to find out how they would be impacting Seminole County wasn’t a national newspaper, but a local one. The local paper in question? The Blueprint – Hagerty High School’s student newspaper. Student journalists published articles about the Florida Department of Education rejecting math textbooks and the battle over Advanced Placement Psychology curriculum. These stories featured quotes from school officials, background on state politics, and explanations of consequences for Hagerty. For all intents and purposes, these stories were front line coverage of a breaking news event affecting a local community. Provided by high school students.

In 2021, a New York Times journalist published an article titled “Anatomy of a Mascot,” telling the story of a battle between students and alumni alike over the school mascot of a Pennsylvania school district. Years before the story of opposition to the mascot was published in the Times, it could be found in Radnor’s school paper, the Radnorite. From 2016 to 2021, the year the mascot was changed, the Radnorite published stories condemning the mascot, covering the vote itself, and debunking circulating misinformation. In the summer of 2020, the issue became a touchpoint for a burgeoning racial justice movement, and the best place to read about it was in the Radnorite.

Beat Model Newspapers

Since 2010, the Boyle Heights Beat has trained hundreds of high school journalists. The Boyle Heights Beat, however, is not a student newspaper. A self-labeled “bilingual community news project,” the paper produces hyper-local coverage for the Boyle Heights community in the city of Los Angeles from a mix of student and professional reporters. In 2021-22 the youth staff included 14 students from five high schools in East LA. Their work is overseen by a team of professional journalists who edit their stories and provide on-the-job training. Much of the Boyle Heights Beat’s student reporting focuses on news that wouldn’t appeal to a larger audience, subverting the ‘murders and festivals syndrome.’ The combination of community driven reporting (the publication’s motto is “noticias por y para la comunidad,” or “news by and for the community”), driven students, and first-rate instruction makes the Boyle Heights Beat an exemplar student news program. 

Sacramento, California was losing education reporters leaving school districts uncovered in the news. Until Steve O’Donoghue, a journalism educator, and Louis Freedberg of EdSource, a non-profit journalism organization reporting on educational issues in California, had an idea: “Why not train students to cover schools and districts to fill in news deserts, especially in low-income schools with large populations of underrepresented youth?” The result? Sacramento School Beat. Each year, a new cohort of student reporters produce an article a month which is published to and distributed to local news media for free. Overseeing their work is a team of writing coaches and mentors who work with the student journalists to hone their craft. O’Donoghue has recruited former professional journalists and journalism educators to work with the students on a part time basis. He has found no shortage of journalists willing to pitch in. They have also seen no shortage of students willing to learn.