Reporting in-depth news has never been more challenging or more important given the number of critical issues facing the world and the shortage of resources available to news outlets today. However, writing about these subjects in an interactive, connected world requires a new set of skills and level of expertise.
University of Iowa professor Stephen Berry is transforming promising young writers into investigative reporters and helping them build a solid portfolio and a network to find jobs.
Berry, who teaches in-depth and investigative reporting at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, co-founded the IowaWatch project to train student reporters and provide a multimedia venue for their long-form projects.
In 2011, www.IowaWatch.org was a recipient of a Community Foundation of Johnson County grant to help launch the project. IowaWatch, incorporated in February 2010 as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news service, provides University student journalists a collaborative environment to produce explanatory and investigative projects independently or in collaboration with other news organizations.
Berry, IowaWatch interim director, shares his 41-year journalism career with his students as they learn and specialize. He says IowaWatch complements offerings available to students and broadens their communication perspectives. "Our goal is to give UI journalism students multimedia opportunities to learn by working with supervision of seasoned professional editors. These opportunities allow our reporters to build solid portfolios of professional work that will enhance their employment potentials."
The students' efforts are focused on issues and problems in government, health, consumer affairs, education, the environment or sports that are relevant to the people of Iowa.
The scarcity of resources available to media outlets make it difficult to keep the public informed about complex issues. "Only the largest newspapers can afford to produce in-depth pieces," says Berry, "and we have kids with special talents that need nurturing. They are serious about journalism and work long hours without pay to improve their skills."
With an extensive network of more than 300 editors and news organizations throughout Iowa and the Midwest, the majority of student stories developed for IowaWatch.org are distributed free for publication.
The well-attributed student articles give editors in the network confidence that students have done a good job. "Editors may choose a footnoted version of student stories that allow facts to be checked quickly, but none have done so to date," Berry says.
He's pleased the IowaWatch project has parlayed its Community Foundation of Johnson County local award into national prominence, recognition and funding from the Ethics and Excellence Journalism Foundation. "Our next step to advance the student program is hiring a full-time executive director. We have a lot of good stories in the pipeline."
CUTLINE: University of Iowa journalism students discuss projects for the IowaWatch.org website with Professor Steve Berry. Pictured are (left to right) Emily Horner, Steve Berry, Larua Arny, assistant editor, Lauren Mills, and MacKenzie Elmer.