Gina Gayle’s research suggests a new approach that could train young professionals, restore a declining industry, and strengthen democracy.
Assistant Professor of Journalism Gina Gayle remembers her first photography job — for the East Side Daily News in Cleveland, Ohio. She was in her 20s, and prior to her first Daily News assignment, had been working as a pharmaceutical sales representative.
Soon, Gayle would discover her passion for community journalism, which spurred her research and led her to a novel concept for turning the industry’s tide of decline.
With the help of colleague Allison Frisch, a journalism professor at Ithaca College, Gayle published their paper “Strengthening Community News: Funding the teaching hospital model and educational community collaboratives” in the Fall 2022 edition of Grassroots Editor. In the article, they argue that declining local news organizations could be revamped by developing connections with university journalism programs — similar to how teaching hospitals partner with medical schools.
“The student gets the experience. The newspaper gets the content and the establishment out in the community,” Gayle said. “Journalism is a big part of our democracy. And if we don’t have information, we cannot be an informed nation.”
This sort of symbiotic relationship between local newsrooms and college journalism students, Gayle and Frisch explain, has seen success at places like Temple University, where four student media organizations publish multimedia content for partnered with a local nonprofit media group, Resolve Philadelphia.
Many community journalists and researchers believe this new model could revitalize local media organizations, particularly in the wake of expanding news deserts and widespread loss of funding. The coronavirus pandemic only accelerated this existing decline, forcing the closure of more than 100 local newsrooms over the last two years, according to researcher Kristen Hare.
Gayle emphasizes the importance of local journalism, as it fosters an informed community and motivates responsible reporting.
“If more people saw themselves literally, figuratively, in the news, maybe some of the disinformation and misinformation that’s going on could be dissipated,” Gayle said. “If we can get back to [having] local people telling their communities stories, journalism will be in a better place.”
From her perspective as both a journalist and an educator, Gayle’s ideal program would center around a collegiate center for community news. Engaging journalism faculty, students, and locals looking to gain experience, this news hub would provide training for all involved.
“Everybody has a phone. Everybody has the internet. Everybody can make a website,” Gayle said, drawing from her own dissertation research. “If people are doing that, we want to train them in how to tell stories correctly and how to do the research. If the community is interested in their news, let’s train them on how to cover it.”
While researchers and journalism professionals welcome Gayle and Frisch’s proposal, several barriers challenge the model’s broad adoption. For one, both local news organizations and collegiate journalism programs would need to invest significant time and money toward building working relationships and funding endeavors.
In addition, Temple and Resolve’s collaboration faced difficulties in “integrating goals” and adapting management systems. Nonetheless, in their paper, Gayle and Frisch assert that these initial hiccups are worth it.
“[T]he collaboration shows the ‘value in finding a way for professional and student journalists to work together…and forge a model to introduce students to collaborative journalism,’ they wrote in their paper, citing a quote from a 2021 Resolve Philadelphia article.
For now, Gayle and Frisch continue their research, working on a follow-up to their Grassroots Editor piece. Frisch is engaging potential donors interested in funding community journalism collaboratives while Gayle meets with community news organizations to assess their ongoing needs.
Once “all of the players” are involved, the real reporting can begin.
Isa is a sophomore journalism major minoring in media studies. She is from Omaha, Nebraska but loves coming back to the city. Outside of coursework, Isa is the Managing Editor of Your Magazine, the secretary of Emerson's chapter of NAHJ and a freelance writer for publications nationwide. She loves reading in the Common, going for long runs and sipping iced coffee.