David Scobey over at Inside Higher Ed has a modest proposal to consider. In light of the demise of the mainstream print media, Scobey has noticed the rise of college professors as experts engaging in social media, and wonders whether the academy the Ivory Tower should rally to the Fourth Estate:
Even the best prof-bloggers, however, cannot make up the civic deficit of the newspaper crisis. For blogging is not news-gathering. It supplements, but does not supplant, the public need for a daily, iterative, trustworthy ensemble of information (however incomplete and contested) about the doings of the world. It may seem counter-intuitive to imagine higher education contributing to the work of producing that ensemble.
But I would argue just that: Colleges and universities can offer a crucial response to the crisis not only by exporting peripatetic scholarly expertise, but also by playing host to campus-based ventures that cover local and state news.
…which is precisely what one would imagine all those independent bloggers and social media types would simply love to see — the hijacking of media elites by academic elites.
Imagine, then, a national network of campus-based daily news sites. Newsrooms of professional journalists would cover local, regional, and state issues — politics, economic development, work and labor, community affairs, art and culture, and (yes, that most important of community attachments) sports. The “dailynews.edu” website would be a nonprofit entity, overseen by a campus-community advisory board, but editorially independent. In place of a traditional editorial page, reflecting the views of its owner-publisher — a wholly owned soapbox that will surely disappear with the print daily itself — the news site would have a large, diverse op-ed section, a “Speakers’ Corner” for campus and community voices on public affairs.
Undergraduates and graduate students — whether “J-school” enrollees, Communications majors, or simply veterans of the student paper — would do apprentice reporting, editorial work, and administrative support. Indeed, in contrast to the traditional newsroom, campus-based journalists would include in their portfolio a healthy dose of mentoring and teaching. The bills for the venture would be paid through a blend (different for different institutions) of government funding, campus support, soft-money grants, and reader-donor contributions.
Far-fetched? Economically unsustainable? An egregious case of mission creep for overextended campuses that ought to stick to classroom teaching and traditional research? Perhaps: I can already imagine the skeptics gathering under the banner, Save the Fourth Estate on Your Own Time.
Sounds more like the Eye of Sauron than the Ivory Tower to me… but who am I to judge?
Still, for all the tounge-in-cheek criticism, there are a few salient points to be made. The blogosphere still lacks the gravitas the MSM has squandered away over the last few decades as it shifted away from information and towards gossip. Moreover, the need for quality news remains… who will fund this?
Perhaps the shift needs to be away from the 1970’s school editorial style and back towards the 1920’s era correspondence desk? It’s no secret that people will pay for quality reporting — the NYT, Politico and WSJ are demonstrating this now — and it’s no secret that most reporting at the national and state level is by and large vapid, empty, and terribly opinionated without any real substance.
My primary concern would be a version of Cass Sunstein’s “Daily Me” — a mutated, terrifying version of Republic.com where DailyNews.edu simply gave the weight of academia to news. After all, the problem isn’t so much journalism as it is infotainment and opinion replacing analysis and facts.