Into The Breach: Digital Case Study for Monday, Nov. 22 — MW class

For our class on Monday, Nov. 22, we will have a multimedia case study — Into the Breach: Should Student Journalists Save Local Political Reporting?

The case is free — check your email for the password. It’s part of the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia University‘s Graduate School of Journalism.

You can print out a PDF if you’d like, but take advantage of the multimedia elements, such as audio interviews with the main characters and links to their bios.

The case study assignment is worth 20 points. The first part, worth 10 points, is to post a brief response (250 words or less) as a comment to this blog entry addressing one of these two questions:

1. Would this proposed university news service benefit Kentucky’s existing news organizations, or pose unfair competition?

2. Would this news service benefit student journalists, or would it take advantage of them?

Your response must be posted by noon on Monday for full credit. In your response, cite specific facts from your own reading of the case. It’s not acceptable to piggy-back on your classmates’ answers without reading the case yourself.

The second 10 points will be awarded on the basis of your contributions to the case study discussion in class.

Enjoy the case!


  1. Response to Q#2
    While reading the assigned case, I took away useful and at the same time very important information related to today’s journalism and its future.
    In that particular case, I think that students will only benefit from both doing local political reporting and running news bureau as a center piece of a new department in a brand new journalism program. Just like SMU journalism students run by themselves an entire show (Daily Update), it will be very useful to everyone in that field judging of course from my personal point of view and experience.
    I don’t think it will take an advantage of the students simply because they are gaining professional experience by running a news bureau and by participating somehow in the business of journalism while in college.
    According to Beth Barnes, director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky (UK), that experiment will be more success than a failure (p.4). Also, by participating in some kind of a program related to journalism, students now only will gain experience, but they also have the real chance to work professionally and to be seen by specialists and work organizations.
    Word count: 200


  2. Word Count: 206

    For this Case Study, “Into the Breach,” I saw a general lack of an altruistic news forum. Now, more than ever, the Internet provides the journalist and the news-seeker an even greater freedom over what news to absorb, when and where. The article states, “Cross believed that a student-run news bureau had the potential to offer small, rural papers what he alone could not: a robust reporting presence in Frankfort” (page 12). This proposed university news service largely benefits Kentucky’s existing news organizations because it provides students with much needed experience in the journalism field. However, as far as posing unfair competition, news should be news and there will always be a struggle over who gets to it first but that’s not particularly important if we, as journalists, look as news as more of an open source than a restricted means of competition. And with the Internet, news cites constantly collaborate with each other’s ideas on a daily basis. It is not a bad thing but instead a start toward the trajectory of great change and improvement in our business. So as these students have the opportunity to gain experience, they can contribute to their community and promote an altruistic journalism lifestyle.


  3. Q1

    For question one, it depends on how you look at situation. Since the AP cut news coverage to one reporter in 2009, then the student journalists could fill the void. However, just because the AP cut staff doesn’t mean that local papers don’t have sufficient journalists to cover Kentucky politics.

    So, the AP would benefit from students and possibly local papers because they wouldn’t have to pay for reporters to do it. But, this could lead to a reduction in staff for those papers and professional journalists could be fired in favor of free labor.

    And it would definitely benefit students because they would have little to no competition for the beat so their stories would be more likely to be published in a professional paper.


  4. This kind of journalism experience would definitely benefit journalism students. Imagine the experience that they would be receiving as they report on politics for the state. According to the study in 2009 the Associated Press announced that it was cutting its Kentucky capital news bureau from two fulltime staffers to one (12), so exactly how would people receive their political coverage? This is perfect timing for these students to take advantage of this opportunity and promote themselves in the market. If there is no political coverage as mentioned in the study voter turn out will decrease to lower numbers and it would be easier for incumbents to win re-election (9). Al Cross envisioned a bureau that could eventually serve as a primary political news source for much of the state (11). This kind of promotion for journalism students is a great opportunity that could help build their portfolio.

    However, one of the issues would be whether the student would get paid for their work? This seems like a very demanding position for students and although yes they are receiving great experience they should have other incentives. For instance, here in the journalism department it is mandatory to get paid and receive class credit for internships, which I feel is fair. The students would basically be picking up the slack on the content that media outlets are not producing, so they should have the right to get paid for all of the hard work that takes place in reporting stories. They would be taken advantage of if they were not being paid just because they are students despite them having to produce all the political content for an entire state.


  5. #2
    After reading this case study, I believe that a student run news service would greatly benefit the students in enhancing their journalism skills. However, I also think that it would be very time consuming and the obligation of having both a news program and other classes may cause many students to fall behind in classes or to become burn out from Journalism before even entering the field. Many of the questions brought up in the case study were you questions that I had myself. Such as, KSU was many months, likely years, from having an accredited journalism school. How could it head, or even partner in, a credible news bureau? How would it be financed? Who would direct it? When students went home for the summer, who would maintain the service? Many students would be leaving for the summer and the pressure to make all decisions with the focus of the news station in mind first does not seem fair for college students.The fact that KSU still did not have an accredited Journalism program is a key factor which made me doubt if the KSU students would be passionate enough about running the station. I believe that if the students were not 110% passionate about the news station that it would quickly become more of a burden then an excellent opportunity to the students.


  6. Running a fully functioning local news organization would obviously be educational and beneficial for journalism students. However, I think it should be done solely for those purposes rather than out of necessity. The whole point of being a student is to have time to learn before going out into the real world. If students have the motivation and the ability to handle this kind of project, it should be supplemental to the existing local news, not a replacement for it. On top of that, in the case we read about the school does not even have an established journalism program. I think a university should worry about that before they worry about putting their students to work as their area’s only source of local news. Why would students even want to go into the field of journalism if, by the time they are in school, are the only ones working in it? Besides all of the issues I have with this idea, it was merely an offered solution to a problem. The problem itself is the diminishing number of sources for local news. I think there should be more attention paid to how to solve this problem in the long run rather than patching it up by using student journalists.


  7. The kins of journalist experienced mentioned in this case study would be beneficial for students if it was carried out in the appropriate manner. I think it is more important in states like Kentucky versus Texas. it was alarming to find that by the fall of 2009, just seven fulltime journalists covered state politics in Kentucky and that The Courier-Journal assigned only two reporters to the statehouse. Schulhofer-Wohl found that the following year fewer candidates ran for office, voters turned out in lower numbers, and incumbents were more likely to win re-election. IT was obvious that in this state there is a need for political news coverage and that students can have the ability to this this they should be utilized. But, the problem i run across is would working in the bureau come at a cost to their overall academic experience? I think this should only be done if the bureau is taken as a part of student academic credit. I think tat this would be an overwhelming time consumer and that students should receive credit for their work.


  8. Would an opportunity such as this be beneficial to students? Absolutely. Is it fair to the students in this particular situation? I don’t think so. With only seven full-time journalists covering politics in Frankfort–and only one in the AP by the end of 2009, it was clear that somebody needed to step in or the political consequences would continue to develop. Schulhofer-Wohl said that even the smallest papers could make an impact on Kentucky’s problem with political coverage. Beth Barnes saw this as an opportunity to create a student journalist-run bureau to pick up the slack of other publications in the state. She noted several conveniences with the program, including the fact that the program would run simultaneously with Kentucky’s legislative session. However, she was yet to come up with a solution for her students. In general, this type of experience would greatly benefit any student–who was getting paid and receiving some sort of university credit. At the time, Barnes hadn’t figured out if these students would be paid or not. Therefore, she would be taking advantage of a student if that student worked for a bureau without any benefits other than “experience.” Furthermore, the amount of work would be overbearing and simply too much for the students. Not only would they be doing the job of political reporting without prior knowledge of how to it, they’d be doing it so the state of Kentucky would have a reliable political source. But how could it be 100% reliable if the teachers are still educating their students on how to cover politics? Wilson had already proved that a system such as this was too much for students trying to juggle academics with political news coverage. His students were dropping the course because the work-load was unrealistic. Why would Barnes try this again? The pressure would be too much.


  9. There are several ways you can look at this case study and various angles from which you can answer this question.
    I can see it benefitting and being a detriment of sort to Kentucky’s existing news organizations. It would benefit them given the fact that organizations like the Courier-Journal were rapidly thinning out:
    By the fall of 2009, just seven fulltime journalists (there were 15 prior) covered state politics in Kentucky. The Courier-Journal assigned only two reporters to the statehouse. As a consequence, Kentucky’s leading papers had come to practice what Cross called “hit and run” journalism: they rotated statewide political issues—the budget, taxes, courts, and so forth — in and out of the paper as high profile stories surfaced.
    So clearly their resources and hired journalists are spread thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. This then produces spotty news coverage and on top of that limits what areas of Kentucky get any sort of political coverage. The rural areas lacked that.
    Here, yes, having more hands are deck would be of great help in filling the gap. But then again, not all students have cars and the time aside from their other classes to cover many stories.
    I don’t believe there would be any unfair competition. These are students. The thing that concerns me is they would need tremendous oversight and help in developing their reporting and writing skills. So, in this way, these inexperienced students could pose to be more of a detriment to news organizations. I would think each of them would require some sort of mentor to train and oversee them to make sure there was accurate journalism going on.
    But if that were in place, and they were getting paid or receiving class credit, I believe they could be of tremendous help and benefit to the Kentucky news organization.


  10. Q2
    I think that anything can benefit students if they put the right amount of effort into it. I feel like a lot of students have a heavy schedule on their plate with class work and the extra curricular stuff they already associate themselves with.
    But this could be something that many people find interesting and want to be apart of. You come across people each day that are hardcore political followers and wish others would pay more attention. I had the chance to do a report/study not too long ago that proved there were a lot of students who did not know the simplest information about the elections that just took place. The struggles that would be involved with this project would just be time and effort. There are plenty of people out there who want to be involved, but those others can also just find the information themselves and carry on as they always have instead of sharing the information.


    1. Kellis I agree with you that students can benefit from the experience they would get from publishing their own political content that would be read by the majority of the state. For instance here at SMU students seek to contribute their work to the Daily Mustang, the Daily Campus, and go off to get internships at media outlets like the Dallas Morning News to have the opportunity to publish their work and gain experience. Students are given a free choice of taking the initiative to apply or enroll in these programs to allow them to not only build a portfolio, but to gain experience in the market.

      Another viewpoint that you might want to look at how these students might be taken advantage of because of the workload they are given without being offered pay. Being a journalist and reporting stories is hard work and takes a lot of extra time working outside of the office / classroom, and although the experience is great I think these students should in part be offered another incentive.


  11. Response to question 2

    I believe experience like this is something a student would only benefit from. Of course, as always, balancing everything would be challenging. As stated in the third section, “difficulty of simultaneously teaching journalism to undergraduates while asking them to produce publishable work.”
    Many young Mustangs can relate to this, I’m sure. But it’s something that they can learn and then find the benefits in the job.
    I don’t see the situation as taking advantage of the students. They’re still in school and should be looking for every opportunity to get involved. However, there is the issue of payment… Students stretching themselves to cover both classes and local news should deserve adequate, financial compensation.


  12. Like Al Cross, cited as “something of a political and journalistic institution in Kentucky,” said in the case study, he believed that a student-staffed capital news bureau was more than a timely idea that was in question between the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University. Cross thought that the idea of merging the two institutions to create another news source for Kentucky was an excellent educational outlet for students as well as a civic necessity. I agree with Cross in his stance for the merging of the two universities programs for many reasons but most importantly, speaking as a journalism student, I think it would help the students greatly at both universities because of the resources that would be available to the students. These resources would not only include the broadcast studio and news truck at Kentucky State, but also the professors and professionals that a combined program like this would have.
    In addressing the question of if this opportunity takes away from the Kentucky reporters and local journalism outlets, I would definitley disagree. Like in the introduction of this case, it said that the local staffs of newspapers had dwindled and the opportunities for landing a job in journalism in Kentucky had gone downhill as well. This opportunity for students to cover politics in a student-staffed capital news bureau with great professors as their advisors is a win-win combination because the students would be getting great experience and help Kentucky cover the state news pro-bono.


  13. A basis of our country’s culture is competition. The US promotes a competitive market place in order to continuously obtain quality and innovation. Therefor, in the case of the KSU’s journalism division posing as competition to Kentucky’s existing news organizations, it is only fair. While the KSU program is run by students training for the real-world, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t capable of producing real-world level reporting. Just like the existing news organizations, the KSU program is an industry. Along with keeping the real-world companies on their feet with competitive reporting, the KSU program can also fill the gaps of cut backs that local bureaus have had to make due to the recession.
    While the demands of launching a new journalism program are high, it has to be done in order for the school to receive credibility. Graduating from a program that is not credible or does not provide the experience needed to survive in the real-world industry of journalism won’t get a student far.
    Instant gratification is another aspect of our culture, and therefor a necessity in the field of reporting in order to stay competitive. The purpose of attending university is to obtain practice in a field of study that you wish to enter upon graduation; Barnes was looking to recreate a real world environment for the students to practice within. By no means is the program taking advantage of the students. It is providing an opportunity for them to establish and create their own brand, which is a rare opportunity. It teaches the students self-discipline, self-motivation and time management.


  14. After seeing what everyone has had to say, it seems obvious that local coverage of politics should be a positive impact when it comes to the decision making side of things. Getting the word out on what is happening, no matter the subject, plays a role in the mindset of every person that sees it. The influence of outside opinions can be greater than what most people realize. From students to people around town, the conversations about people getting frustrated with what one person said or did can be quite interesting. When the conversations relate to politics though, the attitudes increase to another level for the simple fact that it affects their lives.

    I personally have noticed the affect local press can play with articles I have either done myself or had the opportunity to help in and know what is possible. I believe that it is important for others to express how they feel, it just needs to be understood that the information is accurate and needs to be responsibly done.


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