Jtm-dc-Designing and Building the Newsroom of the Future

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Report of Journalism That Matters Breakout session
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Session: Designing and Building the Newsroom of the Future at Duke University

Host: Chris O'Brien, project manager

Attendees: Andrea Frantz, Wilkes University; Amy Mitchell, PEJ deputy director; Paul Bass, Yale University; Mary Beth Callie, Regis University; Eduardo A. de Ohveira, The Brazilian Journal; Krishna Prasad; Tony Van Witsen; Sharon Moshari; Pamela Foster, Tennessee State University.

This session focused on a project being run by Chris O'Brien on behalf of The Chronicle, the student newspaper at Duke University. O'Brien is a Duke graduate and a former news editor at The Chronicle.

The paper finds itself with a great opportunity. Duke is planning to build a new campus, and the university has proposed creating a new student media center on that campus. The new center would bring together the student paper, the student TV station, radio station, and film group. Currently, all those groups are scattered around the campus and have no formal relationships. The Chronicle must decide whether to move into this new facility, and if so, what potential it holds for shaping journalism on campus.

The project, officially called “The Next Newsroom Project,” is focusing on a basic question: If you had a chance to build a newsroom from scratch for the next 50 years of journalism, what would it look like? Over the next year, the project will create a website to document its research and provide a place for anyone interested in the topic to collaborate on the newsroom proposal; there will be a conference on the newsroom of the future at Duke University in Spring 2008; and the group will deliver a proposal for the ideal newsroom to Duke officials in May 2008.

By way of background, O'Brien also explained that Duke does not have a formal journalism school, but it does offer a journalism certificate through the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy.

The attendees at this session began by asking a series of clarifying questions to understand some of the challenges the project faces.

Then O'Brien posed some questions to the group:

Q: What role should the newsroom have for creating a hub for public discourse, fostering general media literacy, and community journalism?

The group wondered if a new media center would benefit from additions to the curriculum available at Duke. Most agreed that adding some formal training in ethics, standards, communications policy, and first amendment issues would be beneficial.

The group asked whether the project has the freedom to propose changes to the curriculum at Duke. O'Brien said yes, and noted at this stage that folks working on the project are attempting to think as ambitiously as possible at what the newsroom could include, but also what its role should be in the Duke community. He also said that among the ideals being considered, the project will try to explore ways the newsroom could be an incubator for anyone who wants to experiment with new approaches to newsgathering and journalism.

One attendee suggested the project explore the idea of creating a "Center for Public Discourse and Media" within the new newsroom, as a place for the general community to gather and discuss media related issues and possibly receiving media literacy training.

O'Brien asked the group what relationship the various student media groups should have, assuming, they're all located in the new media center. There was a strong consensus that all the groups should be formally merged into a single organization. Most attendees were surprised that this had not already occurred, but felt it was an obvious step given the general trend toward convergence in media.

The group asked O'Brien what obstacles there would be to merging the groups. He explained that each group has a slightly different status and funding source. The Chronicle, for instance, is an independent student-run group that is self-financed through ad and classifieds sales. The television station is funded by the Duke Student government. The radio station is funded directly through student fees by the Duke administration. Without question, The Chronicle would never relinquish its independent status. So if the groups were merged, there would likely be a need to create some business plan to allow the new media group to be self financed.

O'Brien also noted that current Chronicle staff and alumni are concerned about giving up their current space, which is in a convenient location, but small and outdated. There is a wealth of history and nostalgia surrounding the space and strong emotional attachments that make it difficult for many to consider relocating. On the other hand, O'Brien expressed concern that if The Chronicle decided not to part of such a center, the other groups would merge and create a much more formidable competitor for the attention of students who wanted to get involved with media in some way and would be attracted to the advanced facilities.

One attendee asked if the project had considered the role of engineers, developers and technologists in the newsroom? He suggested that there be a space in the newsroom for engineers and developers to interact with journalists to develop new systems and software.

Another attendee suggested that the newsroom include a space for training community journalists throughout Durham. This would be something that put Duke on the map as leader in such efforts. It would also potentially be a way to enhance and improve the relationships between Duke and its neighbors. It would also advance the national conversation on citizen journalists and create new opportunities for students at the media center to take on the role as educators.

One attendee asked what the project was doing to bring other stakeholders into the discussion. O'Brien said the project had created an advisory team which will include folks from various groups such as the journalism program, the media advisor for the TV and radio station, a business professor, and a computer science professor. Attendees suggested several other constituents the project should consider adding to the advisory team, including maybe a journalism professor from one of the other local public universities, perhaps someone from the local professional media, a community leader, and a local business representative.

One attendee urged O'Brien not to lose site of the need to ultimately focus on storytelling and newsgathering.


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