The decline in local and state-level journalism in the US is creating news deserts, where communities are left without vital reporting on local affairs. In a country where accountability reporting has led to the uncovering of wrongdoing at all levels of government, the need for healthy local and state media is clear. While it is challenging for newsrooms to cover statehouses in particular, the University of Vermont’s Center for Community News has documented 120 programs in which university-led student reporting is stepping in to fill some of the gaps. These are full statehouse reporting bureaus, led by experienced journalists who edit students’ work to ensure it meets ethical and professional standards.
To date, 20 statehouse reporting programs have been established, operating in 19 states, with two programs starting in Texas and Vermont recently. The student reporters, almost 250 in 2022, have produced more than a thousand stories for 1,200 media outlets around the country, with the work offered free of charge. These programs are also providing valuable opportunities for student reporters to learn how governments work and build up portfolios of published journalism.
University-led journalism reporting is an example of higher education institutions responding to a national need for reporting on local news. The programs also enhance student education and solve the issue of the lack of dedicated statehouse reporters in many states. The reporting provided by students can vary, and some articles are investigative in nature. For example, a team of student reporters from the University of Florida broke a story about a $300,000 private swimming pool being built at the mansion occupied free of charge by the university president.
Universities are showing their commitment to student education and local news by supporting journalism programs like the ones highlighted here. With two community newspapers closing each week, and 70 million Americans living in news deserts, this kind of reporting is becoming more important than ever before.