UniMedia

In 2003, Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa bought a local newspaper, Grocott’s Mail. The Uni set it up as an experiential training centre for students and plough any profits back into student bursaries. It reports your average local news stories; on the website front page today are two articles about the local council, Makana Muncipality.

Grocott's Mail front page 21 November 2013

Grocott’s Mail front page 21 November 2013

In 2011, a consortium of Australian universities launched The Conversation which addresses news and issues of the day from an academic perspective.

Both of these examples are interesting approaches to university-owned/produced media. Of course, universities are already publishing bodies in their own right – other than research outputs of individual staff members – with active news webpages. Often, sub-units such as faculties, schools and other bodies will also have their own news sites. These largely report events and news relevant to a narrow audience, some subset of the University’s community. But what if, in an effort to stave off the regularly-predicted death of journalism, universities got more active in providing community media?

At the University of Wollongong, there are a number of media initiatives such as The Current and UOW TV (on YouTube or Facebook). There is also the campus magazine TertangalaThe Current reports on mostly external stories for a mixed audience, while UOW TV does both internal and external reporting, including some excellent work around the time of this year’s federal election. Unfortunately, The Current hasn’t been updated in a while.

Before moving on, it is worth noting that there has also been a recent push to establish a campus radio station at UOW, so what I’m proposing could fit nicely with that. One of the main reasons I think this could work at UOW is because of its regional nature and parochial communities.

Here’s how I think it could work:

  • Since UOW already has a number of publishing platforms, there is no need to establish a new one. It would be sufficient to repurpose or refocus one of these – I suggest The Current – to focus wholly on community news.
  • The publication would serve UOW’s core constituent communities (Wollongong, Southern Highlands, Shoalhaven, South Coast) with your regular daily/breaking news type stuff and longer grounded opinion pieces on local matters by subject experts from the Uni, ala The Conversation.
  • Articles would largely be provided by undergraduate journalism and media students (the newsy stuff) and by post-grads and staff (longer analysis).
  • There could be some small form of reimbursement for articles, either funded by advertising or another source of income, but this would be up to those who did the establishment work to decide. At the moment, student media is unpaid as far as I know.
  • There would be an editorial group of senior academics who would review articles prior to publication. This role could also be taken on a paid editor(s), depending on financial support from the Uni or other sources.
  • I suggest that there be some sort of advertising to self-fund the site, but this need not be a large operation. If the advertising effort was to begin consuming significant resources, it would have reached the point of competing directly with existing newspapers, which would be undesirable.
  • There doesn’t need to be a printed edition, as a well-resourced website would suffice.
  • If linked with the campus radio station, economies of scale could be achieved in both the newsroom and administration.

So, that’s my proposal. I’m wondering if there are other UOW people out there who have further suggestions or who might be able to provide some impetus.

Thanks to Anthea Garman who inspired this idea in me during her presentation on media and democracy in post-apartheid South Africa. 

UPDATE: I’ve been told that something like this might be underway. Here’s hoping it works out. See the tweets below for details.