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Knight Foundation funds College's Innovator-in-Residence program

Funding will continue support of a national expert and add a regional or local innovator to the program Knight Foundation

To build on efforts to introduce journalism students to media professionals who are leading experimentation and change in their organizations, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is helping to expand West Virginia University Reed College of Media’s Innovator-in-Residence program. The $200,000 grant will add to the college’s ongoing efforts to create a culture of experimentation and innovation and encourage change in journalism education.

Over the next two years, the college will continue to embed innovators from national organizations into media classes and expand the program to add regional innovators. These Innovators-in-Residence will be partnered with college faculty to co-teach experimental courses, exposing students to emerging media technology and creating new practices for the industry.

The innovators will also work toward specific projects with students. Each project is designed to solve a specific problem or emerging challenge in the industry — from beta testing new economic models and content monetization to experimenting with new tools and story forms. The overarching mission of the program is to disrupt conventional practices in journalism that tend to inhibit experimentation. The program will share project results in real time and familiarize industry and faculty participants with rapid change and risk-taking.

It also will help to cultivate a culture of innovation at the college, by driving change in academic programs and helping students develop highly relevant professional skills and a problem-solving mindset, said College of Media Dean Maryanne Reed.

“The media industry needs graduates who are not just adept at a particularly technical skill set, but who are also able to innovate solutions that build audiences and revenue and engage communities,” said Reed. “Through our Innovator-in-Residence program, our students are learning firsthand from industry experts how to tackle a modern news challenge and create a real-world solution – and project – within the course of a single semester.”

“Journalism students need to be ready for a future of constant change,” said Eric Newton, Knight Foundation senior adviser to the president. “To prepare them, journalism schools themselves must change, and embrace experimentation and risk-taking.”

Reed College of Media’s program takes a fast-track approach to addressing industry challenges. The program offers virtual options with a limited on-campus residency requirement for professionals. The Innovators-in-Residence can guide projects, give feedback and engage a wider network of media experts via Google Hangout without leaving their full-time jobs for an extended period.

“The College of Media is no stranger to online course delivery,” said Reed. “By offering a more flexible approach to engagement, we can attract a wider range of high-profile innovators and expand our network of collaborators at the same time.”

The College of Media piloted its Innovator-in-Residence program in spring 2014. Sarah Slobin, senior graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, co-taught an interactive storytelling class that focused on reporting for mobile-first delivery, rather than adapting a print, broadcast or Web story for mobile after the fact. The resulting Drug Next Door project forced students to think in terms of user behavior and interaction with mobile devices while producing content.

In fall 2014, Derek Willis, an interactive developer and data journalist at The New York Times, worked with investigative reporting and interactive design students on a data-driven elections reporting project. Students learned how to access and gather voter data on the hyperlocal level and how to interpret and explore that data to determine trends and anomalies. Their reporting and data visualizations helped fill a void in local and regional elections coverage.

Throughout each course, students, faculty and innovators will document their projects and narrate their experiments in real time. This, along with final project results, will be shared widely through multiple channels, including public presentation of the project, blog posts, article submissions and more.

Assistant Professor Dana Coester will oversee the Innovator-in-Residence program at the college. She is also the creative director for the college’s new Media Innovation Center, which will open this year and house the Innovator-in-Residence program.

Support for Reed College of Media at West Virginia University is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to encourage change in journalism education and advance excellence in journalism. Knight’s many investments in this area include: Nieman Journalism Lab, the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education and the Knight-Vice Innovators Fund, and recent grants to Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, City University of New York, Florida International University, Stanford University and the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.

About the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University

The West Virginia University Reed College of Media is a student-centered school that has been graduating journalists and strategic communicators since 1939. While rooted in tradition, the College of Media also offers an innovative curriculum and real-world experiences that prepare students for careers in 21st century mass communications.

Home of the nation’s first completely online master’s degree program in Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), the College is known for its innovative course delivery and ability to build community in the classroom and beyond.

In all programs at the College of Media, students learn by doing, producing stories and projects for professional clients and using the latest digital media technology. And College of Media graduates work in top news organizations and communication agencies around the world, leading the industry and transforming the media landscape.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

The Knight Foundation award was made through the WVU Foundation in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion fundraising effort runs through December 2017.