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Thursday, December 18, 2014

C&J platform buoyed by grant

UNM’s Communication and Journalism department, in partnership with local media outlets, is using a $35,000 grant to create a platform where students can get their schoolwork published and read by thousands across the state.

The department has established an online news portal called New Mexico News Port with the help of the grant. Michael Marcotte, visiting associate professor of practice at the department of Communication and Journalism, is heading the project.

“The thinking behind the New Mexico News Port was to serve as a platform where students can learn and practice journalism,” Marcotte said. “But more than that, it’s a collaboration hub. We wanted to have a project where everybody interested in collaboration with the school has a point of contact.”

The grant was distributed by the Online News Association, which claims to be the world’s largest online journalists’ association, as part of their Innovation in Journalism Education challenge. Out of more than a hundred applicants, UNM was one of a dozen winners.

According to the website of Online News Association, the organization’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public.

They and the five funders of the grant were looking for a project that promised to have a significant impact. The New Mexico News Port will help students learn and practice public service journalism, Marcotte said.

“This fall we will be covering the New Mexico elections,” Marcotte said. “In the Journalism department, in order to make a difference, we needed digital journalism space. We needed a laboratory where we can experiment with the tools of journalism of the future.”

The school was already predisposed toward that kind of innovation, he said. A couple of years ago it took down its print, broadcast and public relations sequences and brought them under the multimedia journalism sequence.

“Anticipating which way the industry is heading, the school is already positioning itself,” Marcotte said. “I just added one more piece to that puzzle.”

Karen Foss, chair of the department of Communication and Journalism, said she is excited about the project, and that she hopes students in the department will benefit from getting published in real media outlets.

Marcotte said he wants to involve as many students as possible.

“It is scalable. We can involve many students as long as we have professionals who can work with them and guide them,” he said. “For starters, this semester we are taking two classes [C&J 375 and C&J 475]. All of the students from these classes will be involved in the project.”

In order to win this prize, it was important to show that the department had already established collaborations, which, Marcotte said, was not a difficult task for him and his team.

“We had our natural partners,” he said.

The “natural” partners connected to the university are KUNM, KNME and the Daily Lobo. “They are so close to what we do,” Marcotte said.

J.R. Oppenheim, senior in Multimedia Journalism and managing editor at the Lobo, said he is excited about the partnership as both a student in one of the participating classes and as an editor for a media partner.

“I can tell you that the best way to learn journalism is do to journalism. Any real-world experience journalism students get outside the classroom only benefits them long-term,” Oppenheim said. “We at the Daily Lobo try to offer a platform to get students published, but partnering with the News Port helps get students into that pipeline,”

The idea is to establish a “teaching hospital” model of journalism education, where students can practice the theory they learn in class, he said.

Marcotte said that if the project is a success, the team should be able to get funding for a second year. He said they are actively looking for more support and funding from the community to continue into a third and fourth year.

Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at assistant-news@dailylobo.com, or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.