A Look at the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education

The other day we were watching the HBO show Veep on a cross-country plane ride. The show stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States and provides an in-depth (and infrequently funny) look at life inside the beltway.

In a recent episode, a "traditional" news reporter from a Washington Post-like outlet faces off against a muckraking renegade blogger. "You people," the reporter bellows, "you know nothing about journalism! It's all gossip and hearsay with no accountability."

The blogger responds by smugly noting, "Tough luck! I represent the future, whether you like it or not."

The encounter was telling because it spoke to the profound changes underway in journalism. But what didn't occur to either the journalist or the blogger was the fact that their entire argument was one big red herring.

The future of journalism won't be an either/or proposition, with cigar-chomping, suit-wearing journalists on one side and brazen, swashbuckling bloggers on the other. Both worlds will merge, which is a good thing, because each side has a lot to teach the other.

This is the underlying premise of the "teaching hospital" model of journalism education. It's the idea that instead of having a teacher stand in front of a classroom of 200 bored college kids (known as the "custodial" model), journalism can be taught in a collaborative fashion, bringing in professionals, technologists, and the occasional "citizen-blogger" from outside the community.

The Knight Foundation, of course, has been instrumental in leading this transition, and now it appears as if it's spreading its tentacles into the halls of higher learning on a larger scale.

Knight, along with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Ethics and Excellence Journalism Foundation, and the Democracy Fund have all contributed to a $1 million Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. The consortium will foster this teaching hospital model and is administered by the Online News Association, a nonprofit digital journalism association made up of 2,300 members. 

The fund recently awarded $35,000 each to twelve universities to kick off its inaugural year. It initially planned to award grants to only 10 universities. But after expecting 40 applications, they received 125 and expanded the recipient pool to 12.

What explains all the excitement?

For starters, your legacy journalism professors, who may have been leery of adopting a new model, are fed up with "bureaucracy and outdated theories bogging down journalism education." And to be honest, we feel like they're slightly intimidated and overwhelmed by the technological change around them. They can't keep up.

Ultimately, the promise of the hospital teaching model can be best encapsulated by the proposal of one of the winners, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The school's project, entitled "The Confluence," asks, "Can a statewide investigative collaborative use digital tools and volunteer monitoring to increase the impact of journalism on improving water quality?"

And there it is, in a nutshell. The embrace of digital technology, a powerful public interest issue, and a desire to improve the craft of journalism.

One last thing. In case you were wondering, unlike recent developments in the real world, the journalism and blogger in Veep never made up. If anything, their mutual disdain for each other only grew throughout the episode.

And it still wasn't funny.