Student Insights

Student Insights into the Saving Community Journalism Project


Q. What are the benefits of sending students into the community to work side by side with publishers and editors of small news organizations?

More than 200 students contributed to the research and reporting included in the book, Saving Community Journalism, and this instructional site. They brought the classroom to the profession and both parties benefited. The publishers and editors gained valuable insights and assistance from tomorrow’s journalists and media executives. In return, students were able to work side-by-side with editors and publishers, not only creating a strategy, but also observing first-hand how it was implemented.

Most of the students who were involved in the project were enrolled in an upper-level seminar class titled “Leadership in a Time of Change.” Several contributed articles or examples of proposed Web designs that are either incorporated into the book or this site.

In addition to traditional journalism majors, “Leadership in a Time of Change” has attracted a variety of students in other disciplines, including graduate students pursuing a Masters of Business Administration or a PhD in Mass Communication, as well as senior-level Army officers on a year-long fellowship studying organizational behavior. The course combines in-field experience advising news organizations with class readings and discussion of recent texts related to the issues surrounding leadership of organizations in the throes of “creative destruction.” To obtain a recent syllabus, click here.

At the end of the semester, students are asked to describe what they have learned. Most reflect on the very difficult, but noble, task of leading change during a time of significant disruption in news organizations. Here’s a sampling.

Execution of strategy is more important to success than finding the perfect strategy. As a student of consulting, most of my education in the business school has been focused on studying strategy. In cases where companies have been successful, we try to extract what the company did well strategically. Conversely, in cases where companies failed we examine their missteps and postulate strategies of our own. Needless to say, I find it exciting to formulate strategic solutions to business problems. But after participating in this course, it’s becoming clear to me that the successful execution of a given strategy is more important than finding the best strategy. Whereas formulating a proper strategy may take three to six months, the implementation of the strategy, seeing it to its very end, can take several years and even decades. The company has to constantly strive toward achieving the strategy as one unit; leaders must communicate the strategy and make achieving the strategy part of everyone’s daily job; obstacles must be removed; short-term wins must be acknowledged and built upon. All in all it must be a synchronous and persistent effort. It is much easier for the strategy to fail because things go wrong and companies get derailed during implementation than because the strategy was not the best to start with.

Masters of Business Administration student

Mission is nothing without a strategy to get there. Founders of mission-driven organizations, such as news startups, have a lot of passion to get out there and make the mission a reality. But mission cannot be realized without a strategy for things like revenue, coverage and staffing. The mission is the easy part; developing a strategy is much harder and requires dealing with the realities of the market. To develop a strategy you need a good team with differing perspectives. You need those mission-obsessed dreamers who don’t want to think about the business side. You also need the people who understand how to sell a mission. In a mission-driven organization you need a person at the top to merge the mission and the strategy and implement both, bringing all sides of an organization together to move forward. A leader in this position needs to be able to be nimble and ready to change quickly, and move with the market you are trying to serve.

Masters student and founder of a nonprofit news site

When you’re building a team to assist you with implementing a strategy, you’ll need specific types of people. You’ll need those individuals who will back up your ideas with the technical know-how you lack just as much as you need the constant critic who isn’t afraid to pick apart your ideas for the sake of picking them apart. Teams need strong outward personalities: people who understand others and can communicate with them effectively, and people who are not afraid to speak their minds to their own colleagues. It’s a difficult balance to create, let alone to maintain for extended periods. Yet by understanding the ways we variously and individually operate and interpret things, leaders can work to build teams that address their own shortcomings and also allow them to lift up and support the people they work with.

Senior, majoring in advertising

Leaders need to be able to simultaneously play the game and view it as a whole. Leaders cannot allow themselves to be “swept up in the field of action.” They need the perspective of being “up on the balcony” so that they can understand the context and recognize patterns. This notion of contemplation in action is important because it allows leaders to ask, ‘What is going on here?’, and also allows leaders to see themselves objectively. It seems that an important metric of a good leader is someone who can move between the two, action and balcony, making changes, observing their impact, and then moving back into the action.

Senior, majoring in journalism

It’s all about the people you are leading. From creating a new strategy, championing change, staying on track and creating a team-based culture, the success comes from your followers and how well you lead and motivate them to follow the new strategy.

Undergraduate international exchange student