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U. Iowa journalism school aims to bring new life to struggling rural newspapers

Student newspaper buys 2 publications, will train students in local news coverage

Two small-town Iowa newspaper editors expressed new hope for the future after their publications were purchased by the University of Iowa student newspaper this year.

The Daily Iowan, which is independent from the university, announced its acquisition of The Mount Vernon–Lisbon Sun and The Solon Economist late last month. Both are small, weekly newspapers located within a half-hour drive of campus, and both soon plan to add student journalists to their writing staff.

The purchase comes at a time when many rural newspapers are reducing staff or closing across the country. All parties involved in the Iowa deal expressed hope that the new ownership will be of mutual benefit to the local community and UI journalism students.

Most of the day to day operations at the newspapers will remain the same. Sun Editor Nathan Countryman and Economist Editor Chris Umscheid told the Des Moines Register that their papers are still under their editorial control.

Eventually, however, the Sun and the Economist plan to work with the university’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication to provide internships and other opportunities for students to write local news for their papers, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The Register reports more:

“It will be good hands-on stuff and give them a taste of covering news in a small community,” Countryman said.

Umscheid hopes to eventually tap student reporters for the stories he considers vital to small communities – such as covering governmental topics like the school board and city council.

“They won’t send us the greenest of the green,” Umscheid said. “We’re hoping they send the cream of the crop.”

Melissa Tully, professor and director of the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said in a statement she is excited about the new collaboration.

“News-academic partnerships like this one are more important now than ever before as community newspapers reduce staff or close,” Tully said. “Investing in local journalism and working with nearby communities offers students a chance to produce meaningful work and gain professional experience while working alongside veteran journalists at the newspapers.”

Jason Brummond, publisher of The Daily Iowan, also emphasized the importance of local journalism in a Jan. 29 statement announcing their new ownership.

“Community newspapers play an important and integral role in their communities, and we believe strongly in quality local journalism,” he said.

Brummond said they were not actively seeking to purchase the two newspapers, but when approached about it, they looked into the proposition and decided it would be a good opportunity.

Though unique, the partnership is not the first of its kind. Two years ago, the University of Georgia took over a small-town newspaper that was on the brink of closing, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The Oglethorpe Echo now operates as a nonprofit news and academic organization that provides hands-on journalism experience to students at the university while also publishing local news for the community.

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.