Newspaper, communications school, federal courts partnering in news coverage

John Seigenthaler News Service
News organizations are busy transforming themselves as their traditional business models change, forcing hard decisions in newsrooms, but it has also provided the impetus for thinking above new ways of covering news.

A journalist who started working as a reporter some 55 odd years ago, helped come up with an innovative idea that was announced Wednesday night at the Associated Press Media Editors Conference by officials from Middle Tennessee State University.

Seven journalism students from MTSU’s College of Mass Communication will cover the U.S. District Court in Nashville in a partnership involving the university, federal judges and The Tennessean, which will publish the student articles. Gannett’s other Middle Tennessee newspapers will also use the stories.

John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center in Nashville and who began working as a reporter for The Tennessean in the 1950s and went on to become its editor and publisher, approached and promoted the cooperative news gathering plan to the school, the court and the newspaper.

In recognition of his efforts, MTSU President Sidney McPhee announced that the project would be called the Seigenthaler News Service.

The students will be directed by Pulitzer prize-winning journalism professor Wendell “Sonny” Rawls Jr. and former Tennessean reporter and editor Dwight Lewis.  Rawls said there are few similar efforts in the United States and none focused on covering federal courts and law enforcement. There already are discussions at MTSU about how to expand the concept to other areas of news coverage, he said.

As part of its support of the project, the federal court is providing a room for the students to work out of. In addition to the District Court, the students will cover the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI, DEA, ATF and other federal law enforcement and court-related agencies.

This looks to be a win-win all around. The students will get invaluable experience, course credits and clips. The newspaper will get additional content that will bolster their court coverage. Judges want the public to know about the court system’s activities.

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