JAWS member heads major new journalism institute

By Kay Mills

Journalists today know that they must innovate for their print, broadcast and online media outlets to survive. Key to developing those innovations will be the Donald W.

Pam Johnson

Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, headed by executive director (and JAWS member) Pam Johnson.

In the institute’s journalism futures laboratory, teams of students, faculty and visitors will develop prototype innovations for delivery to media audiences. The most promising prototypes will be used in the journalism school’s own real-world local newspaper, radio and TV stations and online media. Planners anticipate that new online services might also emerge from the Futures Lab.

A nearby demonstration center will house “skunk-works” projects that experiment with new hardware and software to determine how communications professionals might use them. Rather than developing the technologies, this lab will emphasize how those technologies can be used to create better journalism and advertising. Among the questions the institute planners ask, for example, is whether citizen reporters can be trained to use interactive cell phones to report on local events. Or can reporters at small newspapers or television stations use new, cheaper technologies to present international news that relates to the readers and viewers in their communities? Or how might emerging Web, video and audio technologies be shaped to serve mom-and-pop advertising clients?

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, established by Reynolds, who founded the Donrey Media Group, gave $31 million to the School of Journalism to establish the institute. The award covers construction costs, technology and furnishings for the high-tech facilities, and staff salaries, programs and operations for six years. Reynolds was a 1927 graduate of the journalism school.

One project involves upgrading the 115-year-old Sociology Building in the school’s corner of the university quadrangle. University and institute officials had hoped to move in this summer but construction workers discovered crumbling bricks and unsteady walls after construction began, so the move-in date is now June 2008. The institute will also occupy renovated space in Walter Williams Hall, part of the journalism school complex and near the upgraded building. Construction will soon be under way on a building, linking Walter Williams and the renovated sociology building, that will house the journalism futures lab.

“We have very ambitious goals for the institute. We expect it to be a major force for improving journalism, and for increasing the crucial support of all citizens for the vigorous journalism that democracies depend on,” said Dean Mills, dean of the School of Journalism, which is also the institutional home for JAWS.

One key area of the institute’s work will be the Reynolds Fellows program. Johnson said applications for the inaugural fellowship class of four visiting fellows and two Missouri fellows would be available this fall. Each fellow will complete a major experimental or scholarly project; serve as a guest lecturer, professional resource or editor for regular classes in the School of Journalism or elsewhere in the university; participate in forums and other activities of the institute; and provide leave-behind content regarding the project that becomes part of the institute’s permanent resources. Visiting fellows will serve nine months and receive an $80,000 stipend.

Other activities of the Reynolds Institute will include forums in which professionals and academics from journalism engage in dialogue with those from business, law, medicine, education, computer science and other fields to improve coverage of specialized areas and to improve non-journalists’ understanding of journalism as an institution. The institute will also work to educate other professions and citizens on the role of journalism in a democratic society as well as conducting international programs to help strengthen free-press systems in democratizing nations.

Kay Mills is an author and the editor of the JAWS newsletter