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Students in the Stony Brook University working newsroom writing stories under the direction of professor George Goikas for local news organizations. (Submitted photo)
Students in the Stony Brook University working newsroom writing stories under the direction of professor George Goikas for local news organizations. (Submitted photo)

SUNY starts Institute for Local News


Thu, Feb 29th 2024 07:30 pm

By Dominic Minadeo

The State University System of New York launched the first ever systemwide local news program this spring to inform rural communities and provide rich learning experiences for students.

“As the largest comprehensive public university system in the nation, we believe we can have a tremendous impact,” said Lane Filler, chief communications officer for the State University of New York. “Our students will gain essential hands-on learning experiences and we will provide professionally edited local content to struggling local news platforms.”

The new Institute for Local News at SUNY will support and encourage more university-led local reporting programs across the system’s 64 campuses and 350,000 students, Filler said.

Eleven campuses already provide local news through classes and mentored internships or plan to start something soon, Filler said.

Leading the way are Buffalo State, Brockport, Cortland, Fredonia, New Paltz, Oswego, Oneonta, Stony Brook, Broome County Community College, the University of Albany and the University at Buffalo.

Students in New Paltz’s program have reported on the State Legislature for more than 40 years. Buffalo State students work in several local reporting programs including the Buffalo Review West – which has been covering neighborhoods near the campus since 2010. And a new program at Stony Brook pairs student reporters with local media outlets through a “working newsroom.”

Community news programs are academic partnerships with local news outlets where student reporters – under the management of a faculty member – publish their work outside of their college paper.

The Institute for Local News will identify preexisting programs, develop new ones by hosting training meetings, provide templates for best-practice strategies, and generate funding for investments in local news, Filler said. Richard Watts, a SUNY Cortland graduate, will serve as interim coordinator. Watts also directs the national Center for Community News.

University/local news partnerships are more vital than ever, Watts said. Two newspapers die per week across the nation and more than 80 million Americans live in news deserts –geographical areas lacking local news – according to the Local News Initiative at Northwestern University.

In New York alone, researchers identified 14 counties classified as news deserts in 2020, and in a 14-year period between 2004-18, the state lost 40% of its operating newspapers, according to a University of North Carolina study.

SUNY has 64 campuses and around 350,000 students across the state, Filler said. These campuses are often in rural areas with substantial news gaps, where universities with staff, funding and resources can fill in the blanks. 

For more information contact Lane Filler [email protected] or Richard Watts [email protected].

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