UA Community Journalism Program will Blend Newsroom with Classroom

  • September 22nd, 2004
E. Culpepper Clark, Dean College of Communication and Information Sciences
E. Culpepper Clark, Dean College of Communication and Information Sciencesd

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A master’s degree in community journalism will be taught inside a working newspaper through the collaborative efforts of the Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism and The Anniston Star newspaper, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences.

Made possible by a $1.5 million gift to UA from Knight Foundation and $750,000 from Consolidated Publishing, the parent company of The Anniston Star, the marriage between classroom and newsroom will be run much like a teaching hospital. Students at the teaching newspaper will attend classes and problem-solving seminars called “grand rounds” – and also work as interns. UA faculty and Star staff members who hold master’s degrees will teach classes at the newspaper. Other staff members will function as “teaching professionals,” like lab instructors on college campuses.

The project will be phased in over five years, with Knight Community Journalism Fellows chosen annually in a highly competitive, national selection process. Knight Fellows will receive full tuition scholarships and a stipend for the one-year, three-semester program.

“This project advances news in the public interest,” said Dr. E. Culpepper Clark, C&IS dean. “It creates a teaching newspaper where the operations of the University can be made real by exposure to everyday journalism, and journalism can be made more thoughtful through close contact with a university. The project builds on UA’s efforts in community journalism and the Ayers family decision to give its two dailies and two weeklies to a nonprofit trust, rather than sell to a national chain.”

H. Brandt Ayers, publisher of The Anniston Star, speaks at UA's winter commencement ceremony. (Photo courtesy The Anniston Star)
H. Brandt Ayers, publisher of The Anniston Star, speaks at UA’s winter commencement ceremony. (Photo courtesy The Anniston Star)

In December 2002, H. Brandt Ayers, chairman and publisher of The Anniston Star, announced an innovative plan to preserve the independence of that newspaper and to advance the art of community journalism.

The Ayers Family Institute for Community Journalism foundation will preserve the newspaper as a community institution, owned and published locally, while at the same time providing a laboratory for the education and training of journalists.

“Working journalists can offer students a course in life as it is lived, but the partnership with scholars holds out the exciting promise of new discoveries about the intimate relationship of a local paper with its people,” Ayers said.

UA’s journalism department will have access to the staff and new $16 million Star facilities. Both students and faculty will be in residence at the Anniston campus.

The details of the program have been developed under a planning grant from the Miami-based Knight Foundation. Eric Newton, director of journalism initiatives at Knight Foundation said, “There is real excitement here about this breakthrough. It’s the right paper, the right university and the right idea, which will create a cadre of committed, inspired and educated community journalists.”

Community journalism makes up most of what newspapers do in the United States. Some 1,200 of the nation’s 1,450 daily newspapers consider themselves “medium-sized” or “small.” Virtually all of the 8,000 weeklies consider themselves “community” papers. Most of the nation’s broadcast newsrooms are not in New York, Washington or Los Angeles, but are in small and medium-sized markets shaped by geography.

starbuilding_72UA’s journalism program, 75 years old, combines academic rigor with professional experience. The College is host to commercial and public television operations, two FM radio stations, an all-news web site and a quarterly magazine. Of the 2,000 C&IS students, 400 study print or broadcast journalism. The doctoral program, at 50 students, is one of the nation’s largest.

The Anniston Star, 121 years old, combines community journalism and journalism excellence. It regularly wins national recognition – three straight Associated Press Managing Editor Awards, for example – for telling probing international stories to its local audiences. The Star has twice been named one of the best small newspapers by Time magazine, one of the “10 That Do It Right” by Editor and Publisher, July 2004, and one of the top 30 – of any size – in a study by the Columbia Journalism Review.

Star publisher Ayers won the 2003 American Society of Newspaper Editors Leadership Award. Along with accolades for the quality of his newspaper’s journalism, the award noted his decision to form the Ayers Family Institute Foundation.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities. Over the past 50 years, the foundation has invested nearly $250 million in journalism initiatives.


Culpepper Clark, dean C&IS, 205/348-4787, Newton, Knight Foundation, 305/908-2611, Newton@knightfdn.orgBrandt Ayers, publisher, The Anniston Star, 256-235-9201,


Elizabeth M. Smith, UA Media Relations, 205/348-3782,

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.