by MICHAEL V. MARCOTTE
Nevada Media Alliance Managing Editor Alex Pompliano in Carson City, NV
In the 2012-2013 school year, UNR visiting professor Michael Marcotte managed the launch of a journalism collaboration between The Reynolds School and local media partners: KNPB-TV, KUNR-FM and The Reno Gazette-Journal. The project was dubbed “The Nevada Media Alliance.” During its first semester in Spring 2013, the Alliance focused on coverage the Nevada State Legislature’s biennial session.
Marcotte’s independent study class was comprised of three graduate and eight undergraduate students. The students produced nearly 90 stories and blog posts for the project website, three TV packages for KNPB, 15 radio stories for KUNR, and five print stories for the RGJ. Stories also were carried statewide by various online outlets (e.g., Carson Now). The project included an active social media component, particularly using Twitter, Storify, SoundCloud, Flickr and Facebook.
News about the Alliance appeared in student, university and alumni publications. When Alliance stories were carried by professional print and television partners, the partners credited the Alliance. On radio, the Alliance was mentioned prominently during a spring pledge campaign.
Students in the project found the work challenging and rewarding. An internal survey showed high marks for overall satisfaction with the project, and generally positive though somewhat mixed opinions on various aspects of the journalism produced.
Major challenges included a) finding editorial balance between daily coverage and enterprise reporting, b) providing ongoing individualized tutelage while using a distributed team model, and c) delivering consistently high quality for radio, TV, print and online platforms through the active involvement of the professional partners.
The project attracted outside funding (The Hearst Foundations, The Charles H. Stout Foundation and The E.L. Cord Foundation) which supported equipment purchases, mileage, team events, web services and some personnel costs.
Arrangements were made to pay several students to sustain coverage of the legislative session beyond the end of the spring semester.
Future content will evolve as other faculty and students take over.
Actor Nicolas Cage in Carson City to testify in favor of Nevada film incentives
“Teaching Hospital Model” for Journalism
The Nevada Media Alliance (NVMA) is a contemporary experiment in journalism education. It sprang from the mind of Dean Al Stavitsky in consultation with the UNR Reynolds School of Journalism faculty (particularly those leading the school’s Center for Advanced Media Studies). It comes amidst nationwide urgings for journalism school reforms. (i.e., Knight Foundation, AEJMC, Nieman Lab, and Poynter Institute.) While these reforms take many approaches, one borrows from the medical school model where M.D. residents begin their careers through intensive hands-on training, delivering medical services under the supervision of attending physicians. The comparison may be a stretch, but the idea is to move journalism schools beyond the teaching of aspiring journalists and positioning those schools “as the anchor-institutions involved in the production of community-relevant news
that will benefit the entire local news ecosystem.” (Anderson et al, 2011).
The NVMA was not patterned after any other school’s “teaching hospital” model, but it has characteristics in common with many.
Examples of others include: Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, Florida International University’s South Florida News Service, The WSU Murrow College News Service, UT Austin’s Reporting Texas, ASU’s multiple projects, Montclair’s collaborative, and the small but earnest Point Park News Service.
How We Built the NVMA
Planning for the Nevada Media Alliance began during the fall
2102 semester. It was a concious intention to ground the effort in
public service media. Marcotte held exploratory meetings with KUNR and KNPB – the public radio and TV stations based on the UNR campus. Later, the talks expanded to include the Gannett-owned local newspaper, The Reno Gazette-Journal. All the while, the Reynolds School faculty was kept apprised of the project to help envision how it might seat itself in the curriculum.
Here is what was laid out as the original framework:
The Purpose of the Alliance
To give RSJ students journalistic experience, exposure and learning opportunities befitting their investment in a quality education.
To help local professional journalism thrive, by designing, implementing and demonstrating a successful collaborative model.
To serve the information needs of the broader community.
To provide opportunities for applied research and creative production by faculty.
The Work of the Alliance
The alliance seeks to advance multiplatform, in-depth reporting on topics in the public interest. The content may change over time.
Coverage of the 2013 Nevada State Legislature
Timely posts from the capitol
Enterprise features on vital issues, individuals and developments
Multimedia presentations for radio, television, web
Social media activities
Public engagement activities
Content will be published to http://nevadamediaalliance.org — an RSJ controlled portal from which partners may “cherry pick” what serves their needs. Primary partners are invited to work with RSJ editors in advance of publication, to customize content for the partner’s use.
The quality control process includes: careful recruitment of students, faculty oversight of all activities, editorial review of all content, orientation/training for all core participants, and ongoing monitoring/feedback for adjustments and improvements.
RSJ Student and Faculty Involvement
The RSJ will use a strategic design that includes a project “inner core” and “outer core” to manage involvement.
The inner core is comprised of an independent study course fully devoted to the alliance, taught by Michael Marcotte. Hopefully, it will include avid involvement by these Spring 2013 classes: “Data Journalism,” taught by Alan Deutschman, and “Social Journalism,” taught by Donica Mensing.
The outer core is any RSJ class or activity or individual wishing to contribute to the project. For example: students in reporting courses, RSJ’s Wolf Pack Week (TV newscast).
The alliance is open to all partners who abide by the public service mission of the alliance. Given the start-up nature of the activity, RSJ seeks 3 “primary partners.” These are partners who share in the editorial planning of the project and gain early influence in the project.
KNPB (Brent Boynton, News Director)
KUNR (Michael Haggerty, News Director; Kate McGee, Reporter)
RGJ (Kelly Ann Scott, Senior Editor)
“Passive partners” would be those outlets who cherry pick from the website after publication.
Faculty advisors helped recruit students for the project during the fall semester.
This flyer was posted on Reynolds School information kiosks:
By December 2012, the independent study course had enrolled eight undergraduate students, who would serve as multimedia reporters, and three graduate students, who would serve as the editorial leadership. Marcotte’s paid graduate assistant, Alex Pompliano, enrolled in the course and was assigned the overarching role of “Managing Editor.” Grad students Jeri Chadwell and Abbie Walker were anointed “Senior Editor” and “Social Media Editor,” respectively. The undergraduate student reporters were Paul George, Stephanie Glantz, Scot Jenkins, Molly Moser, Laney Olsen, Riley Snyder, Lindsay Toste, and Natasha Vitale.
A wide range of structural, editorial and workflow matters were worked out by the time the semester launched in late January 2013. The legislative session began in early February 2013.
Here’s an abbreviated checklist of some organizational considerations:
Mission & Values (communicated to students are partners during orientation meetings) (see framework above)
Roles & Responsibilities (Assigning individual roles hammered out by Marcotte with his editorial leadership team)
Orientation (school based meetings followed by a day long field trip to Carson City that featured a panel of experienced correspondents)
Scheduling (M-Th daily coverage by dividing the eight undergrads into four teams of two each)(editors were available daily)
Assignments (daily teams produced daily stories while planning/producing larger enterprise packages; topics negotiated with editors)
Editing (all work was edited by the senior editor or the managing editor)
Partner Contact (email contact; a daily email “daybook” from managing editor updated partners on the agenda; partners were invited to all meetings)
(purchased by the school as a stand alone WordPress site)
(handled by managing editor)
(primarily handled by managing editor)
Site Aggregation/Curation (automated
for social media)
(Twitter, Storify, Flickr, SoundCloud, Facebook – managed by social editor, all linked to the primary site)
(reporters given access to all accounts, monitored and reviewed by social editor)
Newsroom (RSJ lab with iMacs; Apps: Hindenburg; Adobe Creative Suite; etc)
Field Kits (3 new kits – one “radio-oriented,” two “video-oriented.” See detailed list below)
Sign-Out Process (used RSJ equipment room storage and check-in/out)
Training (held a training day and then on-the-fly training)
Carson City (The Capitol)
Orientation (arranged through the Nevada Press Association)
Bureau Office (arranged through the Nevada Press Association)
Accreditation (arranged through the Nevada Press Association)
(individuals filed mileage forms for reimbursement at mid-point and end of the semester)
Meetings (Editors met Monday and Wednesday morning. All staff met Friday morning)
Communications (Email, phone, text and shared Dropbox)
Evaluation (professional standards, editors provided grading recommendations)
Expenses (mostly mileage; some team events included meals)
RSJ/UNR/Funder/Partner Relations (We got help from J-school staff)
Daybook (Managing Editor’s daily update to all stakeholders)
CourseAssessment/Grading (grading rubric based on daily coverage, enterprise coverage, TV package, blog post, profile piece, participation/performance)
The Alliance featured in UNR alumni magazine, Silver & Blue
What the NVMA Covered
Initially, the idea was to focus on depth stories in key beats: education and health. However, during the orientation sessions with the Carson City press corps – and because of some urgings by radio partner KUNR – the project shifted into a daily coverage model. Each day, a pair of students would cover hearings or other goings-on in the capital. If students couldn’t get to Carson City, they had the fallback option of covering sessions via legislative feeds online and/or through follow-up interviews.
Some issues dominated the agenda and were tracked closely by the student reporters. Examples included gay marriage, guns
on campus, early childhood education, taxes on mining, sex education, human trafficking, online poker and funding for higher education.
One of the most unanticipated stories of the session involved Las Vegas area Assemblyman Stephen Brooks, who was expelled
after a series of bizarre behavioral incidents, including a threat to harm the speaker of the assembly. Intense statewide media coverage on Brooks proved a challenge to the Alliance because it strained the Alliance’s editorial focus on issue-oriented coverage. The team used restraint and focused on how Brooks’ behavior and expulsion affected the legislative process.
Coverage was often supplemented via social media accounts. This works well in Nevada because both lawmakers and journalists in Carson City are extremely active on Twitter under the hashtag #nvleg. This produced many useable elements for Storify
reports. For example, student Molly Moser and Stephanie Glantz teamed up on a major economic forecast with Molly filing
for the NVMA site, and Stephanie providing the Storify account.
Stories were posted daily, featuring photos, and shared via social media. Stories were tagged for archiving on the site. Tags included “your education,” “your health,” “your taxes,” “your rights,” etc.
Profiles and enterprise stories were also emphasized – particularly at the beginning of the semester when daily coverage was slow, and at the end of the semester when larger issues had clearly emerged.
In the second half of the semester, the team began experimenting with audio podcasts. Managing Editor Alex Pompliano would host weekly chats with NVMA reporters to review highlights of the week.
NVMA Managing Editor Alex Pompliano with faculty supervisor Michael Marcotte in explanatory video shown on Reno PBS station KNPB, an Alliance partner.
NVMA By the Numbers
As of May 20, 2013, the Nevada Media Alliance produced the following stats:
Website: 80 web stories, 8 blog posts, 6500 views, 2000 visitors
KUNR: 15 radio stories
Sagebrush: 5 newspaper stories
KNPB: 3 TV packages
RGJ: 5 newspaper stories
Wolf Pack Week: 2 video segments
Other publications: Ely, Washoe GOP, EQ NV, Carson Now, Fox11
Twitter: 210 tweets, 154 followers
Facebook: 83 likes
NVMA in the News
The Alliance received prominent attention in the UNR media. In April, it was the top story on the university homepage thanks to this article by Jill Stockton and the University news service.
Similarly, the NVMA was featured in an article in the UNR alumni magazine, Silver & Blue. It was also the topic of a front page story by Megan Ortiz in The Nevada Sagebrush.
The NVMA revealed some challenges. Here are some of the more difficult ones:
- Daily coverage can inadvertently drive out enterprise coverage. This dynamic was not a surprise – Marcotte has 20 years of experience managing public radio newsrooms where this is common challenge – but it was still difficult to do in a
controlled laboratory setting. The key is determined effort by editors and reporters, setting interim deadlines for enterprise work, and rewarding or celebrating successful enterprise work.
- In a working newsroom model, it can be difficult to slow down and provide individualized tutelage that might be expected of a college course. The Alliance tried to control for this by a) targeting enrollment to those seniors who have achieved technical and editorial sufficiency through earlier coursework, b) providing group training on specific needs, such as how
to navigate the capitol, how to use new equipment, or how to package content for a specific partner, and c) using the buddy-system so students can help each other solve issues in situ. Overall, the idea is to plunge in and learn by doing. This really works but it also helps to retain enough capacity and elasticity in the model that students get spot training when particular “learning moments” arise.
- The professional partners play key roles in bringing the students work up to consistently high levels of quality for radio,
TV, print or online platforms. This means partners cannot be passive recipients of student work. The Alliance partners who got the most out of the content arrangement were those who put the most effort into guiding the end result toward their needs.
- Students may say yes to a big project requiring major commitment but they are still going to be unavailable at times due to classes, work or other commitments. A project of this type is a great opportunity for individual advancement, so it is fitting for the project to elicit a significant commitment from each student., but the project must also remain realistic about the limits inherent in student schedules.
- Partners can change. Early in the semester, radio partner KUNR lost both its news director and its only other radio journalist to staff turnover. While the Alliance could have continued to file audio stories to the station, the lack of a liaison made it impossible to plan daily coverage and assure continuity of service.
“there is nothing in a textbook that teaches
confidence and troubleshooting… it is up to the student to be successful”
– NVMA Reporter
Alliance reporters celebrate the end of the semester
Assessing the Alliance
From the very start, Marcotte emphasized the experimental nature of the collaboration project. Every meeting included time for feedback and assessment of “how are we doing?” “What might we do better?” In this sense, every participant was invited to reflect on both individual and group progress – and realize that changes or adjustments can be made at any time.
Another way this awareness was cultivated was by encouraging all participants to share blog entries that invited readers to go behind the scenes of the Alliance and get a sense of what it was like. (See Molly Moser’s detailed example of this, including “chasing down a legislator – in heels (never again)”)
A concerted attempt to assess the effectiveness of this project was to ask questions of all participants – students, faculty and
partners – in an anonymous survey.
The survey was conducted at the mid-point of the semester – so that adjustments might be made in the second half.
Here are some of the key findings:
Almost 90% of the participants (N=17) were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” overall with the Nevada Media Alliance.
“How satisfied are you with the Nevada Media Alliance overall?”
The same high percentage gave the project high marks for “collegiality” among the participants in the partnership.
Meanwhile, 100% of the respondents said it was “appropriate” or “very appropriate” for the Alliance to focus its coverage on the Nevada State Legislature.
As for the overall quality of the journalism, responses were mixed depending on the aspect of the journalism. The chart below shows the highest median scores for “Fairness” (4.47), “Accuracy” (4.35) and “Story Selection” (4.12). The lowest scores were still in positive territory for “Writing” (4.00) and “Depth of Reporting” (3.71).
“Please rate the quality of the journalism produced by the Nevada Media Alliance”
Here are some of the anonymous verbatim comments surfaced by the survey:
“I think we have the daily stories down, but now we need to start thinking about bigger topics and stories.”
“I think this has done a lot of really, really great things. The greatest improvement to me would be to find a way to spin more
enterprise/digital. I wonder if covering beats might work better for the future?”
“It might behoove the school to encourage younger students to participate in this class as well. Pairing a freshman/sophomore with a junior/senior can have multiple positive outcomes.”
“Without doubt, this is the most important class a journalism student can take. Classrooms provide an excellent environment fo
developing writing skills, however there is nothing in a textbook that teaches confidence and troubleshooting… it is up to the student to be successful.”
“I believe what we are doing is the start of something very significant at RSJ (Reynolds School of Journalism).”
At the end of the semester, Marcotte solicited some “final thoughts” from the partners. This expressive summary was provided by News Director Brent Boynton of KNPB-TV:
From the standpoint of a media
partner, I offer several thoughts on this first semester:
- This works! For a minimal investment of time, I have enjoyed a series of good packages from the NevadaLegislature—something that without the Alliance would have been out of my reach.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and need. Partners offer an important outlet to students and therefore can offer significant input.
- Allow time to provide input at several points in a story’s development. More oversight is better. I think we’ve had our best results with TV packages if I get involved in the story selection as well as approving the story outline and a rough edit. In practical terms, that has meant that packages develop along a roughly three-week timeline.
- Follow up. The students have worked long and hard to develop your story; they deserve your feedback, both positive and negative. How can they make their next story better?
- Students rock! Enjoy their enthusiasm and gently direct it. You may be surprised
at the quality of reporting they can demonstrate—if you take the time to communicate both your expectations and your trade secrets.
- Everybody gains. Where else could you get free labor? Where else could the students get
professional guidance and critiques? Both the RSJ and the media partners should maintain communication to keep this going.
Senior Editor Kelly Ann Scott of The Reno Gazette Journal was equally effusive. She shared these
I think this project is invaluable and is a great asset to the students. I’ve found the content to be useful and the students professional. I hope this continues in future semesters because I think it’s so necessary, and Mike has done a hell of a job running it.
So, thank you… I’m happy to continue our involvement in future – just tell me how. And, if there’s anything we can do here to support you guys with this, let me know.
The Alliance was promoted on electronic displays around the RSJ building
What’s Ahead for the Nevada Media Alliance?
The Nevada legislative session continues into June, well past the end of the school semester, so the immediate concern is in extending NVMA coverage of the session. To that end, four students are being paid – two of them interns at partner newsrooms, and two of them grad students based at the J-school. In this way, coverage continues well into the summer.
Toward the end of the summer, graduate student Alex Pompliano will begin readying the NVMA site for the fall semester when the
entire project takes on its next phase – as a curriculum based “News Studio” course under Reynolds School professor Alan Deutschman. Deutschman has begun thinking of the collaboration as tool for in-depth business coverage focusing on
Reno’s fast-changing economy.
The NVMA project will segue into another “News Studio”course in the spring of 2014 under Reynolds School professor Donica Mensing. Mensing has yet to declare its focus but is thinking of ways it might experiment with emerging approaches to journalism.
For the time being, the “News Studio” approach, semester-by-semester, allows the Alliance to try out different aims and
processes, under different leaders.
The long-range future of the Alliance is open to invention. Some imagine it may grow into a permanent “Great Basin News Service,” attracting long term financial support — and staffing — while serving the region with specialty coverage. Those who advocate that permanent model also wish to assure that faculty and students continue to innovate in the
collaborative space, semester by semester.
Natasha Vitale of the Nevada Media Alliance files front page story for the Reno Gazette-Journal.
A Final Thought
Our team spent a great deal of effort getting the Nevada Media Alliance up and running. One hopes that the next group of students and faculty supervisors will have an easier time of it now that the tracks have been laid and the machinery of the partnership has been put in motion.
Still it will be a managerial challenge running a newsroom in the real world, but may the lessons learned here, during the start-up phase, inform the next iteration of this worthwhile and engaging project.
NVMA Equipment List
||Marantz PMD661 MKII
||SanDisk 16GB SDHC Memory Card Extreme Class 10
||Audio-Technica AT8035 condenser shotgun
||Audio-Technica AT899 – Condenser Lavalier
||Samsung EX2 Digital Camera (White)
– SLB-10A 3.7V 1050mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
||JVC GY-HM150U Compact Handheld 3-CCD Camcorder
||JVC BN-VF823 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack – 7.2V,
||Sony MDR-7506 Circumaural Closed-Back
Professional Monitor Headphone
||Final Cut Pro
||Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design Standard
||LaCie 1TB Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt Series
Portable Hard Drive