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American Journalism Review
Those Who Do, Teach  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   April/May 2004

Those Who Do, Teach   

Journalism schools save money through teaching partnerships with area newspapers.

By Melissa Cirillo
Melissa Cirillo is a former AJR editorial assistant.     

In 2002, Ted Pease, head of Utah State University's department of journalism and communications, was operating a program on what Jay Shelledy, then-editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, calls "a criminally limited budget." As the department grew, the nearly 50-to-1 student-teacher ratio attracted the attention of the department's advisory board.

When Shelledy, a member of the board, learned of the severity of USU's budget crisis--particularly the unlikelihood of the journalism department receiving any money to hire new faculty members--he decided to enlist his newspaper's help. Believing that his profession is responsible for "nurturing the next generation of journalists," Shelledy had previously allowed staffers to teach classes as adjuncts at the University of Utah and local high schools, but he'd always wanted to develop a program in which newsroom veterans could get a paid sabbatical to teach on a more formal basis. "The two needs," he says of the desire to teach and the hunger for journalism instructors, "seemed made for each other."

William Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group and owner and publisher of the Tribune, agreed to pay for the program, and the university worked out a three-year contract with the paper that included semester-long paid sabbaticals for six staffers--free labor that would save the university $100,000.

Pease praises the Tribune's generosity. "This is the first time I've seen this level of financial commitment" from the newspaper business, he says.

The Tribune program, which was launched in the fall of 2003, gives newsroom staffers "a chance to clear their brains while passing along practical experience and knowledge of their craft to the next crop of journalists," says Shelledy. Tribune journalists with at least five years of experience can apply, and management agreed not to turn down people they felt were key to the newsroom.

"The trade-off seems worth it," says Shelledy, who left the paper last year (see "Salt Lake Blues," August/September 2003). Reporters return to the newsroom energized, and the students end up with "knowledge, mentoring and enthusiasm from a professional."

One student who inherited that enthusiasm is Tyler Riggs, who took a public affairs reporting class with David Noyce, the Tribune's first reporter to teach through the program. Riggs, a sophomore, is now a Tribune correspondent.

"Having an ordinary professor...might be good for teaching the students the ABCs of public affairs journalism, but having a professional, working journalist teaching the course taught us the passion that is involved with being a journalist," Riggs says.

Other schools and news organizations have teamed up, and it's not always about money. Tom Davis and Scott Fallon, two journalists from Hackensack, New Jersey's Record, are teaching at Rutgers and Syracuse, respectively, this spring. Recognizing that it was in the paper's interest to play a role in the development of future journalists, the Record's parent company, North Jersey Media Group, approached the universities with an offer to send one staffer each semester.

The schools get free labor--the newspaper covers Davis' and Fallon's salaries and benefits. But according to Doug Clancy, the Record's assistant managing editor who devised the plan nearly five years ago, the partnership is more about helping J-schools improve. In turn, the reporters can enjoy "a breather from their work," he says, and they have the opportunity to take free classes.

At Syracuse, Fallon teaches basic news writing and an enterprise reporting course. He hopes that he can help students develop a sense of today's newsroom environment. "The difference between myself and other professors here is that one week before class started, I was at the paper reporting," he says. "The others are more research-oriented...or they've been out of the newsroom for many years."

Though Noyce often missed working full-time at the Tribune, he says, "I like working with young, eager reporters, ones who haven't already developed a slew of preconceived notions or been turned off by years of cynicism."

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