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Cronkite School to lead digital media program

July 07, 2008

The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation are giving Arizona State University a $7.5 million grant to direct a bold, experimental digital media program at 12 leading U.S. universities.

The News21 initiative, which the foundations hope will help redefine journalism education and prepare a new generation of journalists capable of reshaping the struggling news industry, will be headquartered at the new Phoenix home of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Cronkite School also will operate one of the initiative’s eight digital media “incubator” sites. As part of the incubator program, advanced journalism students will travel the country to produce in-depth news coverage on critical issues facing the nation and then experiment with innovative digital methods to distribute the news on multiple platforms.

The News21 program started in 2006 with incubators at the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University, Northwestern University and the University of Southern California.

Under the three-year grant to ASU, four new incubators will be created at the Cronkite School, the University of Maryland at College Park, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Syracuse University. In addition, four other Carnegie-Knight schools – the University of Missouri at Columbia, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the University of Texas at Austin and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University – will send students to the eight incubators.

“Although traditional models of newspaper, radio and local television news dissemination are severely challenged,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, “every community in this democracy continues to have a core need for reliable information, news that informs and news that helps build the common language that builds community. That need will not go away and provide hope for future journalists. They will tell those stories with traditional, verification-journalism values but on multiple platforms and structures influenced by new technology. Journalism can train them to do that and, in that sense, journalism schools have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the industry. Carnegie and Knight want them to succeed.”

ASU President Michael Crow applauded the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation for their investments in the future of the news and journalism education.

“ASU is an institution that is forward-looking and one that takes as a major part of its mission solving the most significant problems facing our nation and our world,” Crow said. “In that regard we are especially pleased to be involved in a project focused on the future of news, which is so vitally important to a free society. I thank the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation for making these investments and selecting ASU to be the headquarters of the News21 initiative.”

The initiative’s credo – to accelerate change at universities educating tomorrow’s journalists – has already begun to have an impact on the news business as the pipeline of young and innovative reporters from initiative-supported schools bring their skills to newsrooms around the country and across all media platforms.

Students participating in News21 incubators during the summer already have produced experimental reporting on seldom-covered but important stories, and their work has been published or broadcast by news organizations including The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Miami Herald, L.A. Weekly,, The Associated Press, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CNN. This summer student-produced reports will be published on, the incubator’s current national news partner as well as at

News21 will grow from four to eight campuses next year, increasing the number of competitive, paid summer fellowships to 93 from 44. The summer fellowships, open to students at each of the 12 Carnegie-Knight schools, are preceded by a semester of self-guided research and intensive seminar work with professors who are acknowledged experts in the students’ field of inquiry. During the summer, students report their stories and produce material for publication or broadcast across a number of platforms.

News21 is the latest digital news program at the Cronkite School, which has taken a national leadership role in preparing students for the dramatic changes in the news industry triggered by the digital revolution. Cronkite already is home to the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, in which students learn to create and launch their own online news products; the New Media Innovation Lab, which serves as a research and development lab for news companies looking for digital solutions; and the Multimedia Reporting Program, a partnership with The Arizona Republic in which students cover breaking news in multiple media for the Web site of the nation’s 10th largest newspaper.

“News21 is precisely the kind of innovative, unconventional and intensive learning experience that journalism schools desperately need to not only help educate the next generation of journalists, but to find solutions to help the news industry evolve in the digital world,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. “It is a great honor to help build on the first three years of News21 with an expanded group of schools.”

The Cronkite School will hire a national News21 director, a national Web developer and a program manager over the next few months. News21 will be based in the Cronkite School’s new building, a six-story, state-of-the-art journalism education complex that opens next month on the university’s new Downtown Phoenix campus.