Arizona PBS to become ‘teaching hospital’ for ASU’s Cronkite School

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Eight Arizona PBS is the latest pubmedia station to launch a partnership with its licensee’s J-school with the goal of fostering innovative reporting.

Arizona State University will transfer oversight today of the Phoenix-based pubTV station from the college’s public affairs department to its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Arizona PBS will serve as a “teaching hospital” for ASU’s journalism students, who will continue their current media work with an eye toward integrating it into Arizona PBS. These efforts will include a nightly state-focused newscast, an innovation lab and a public-relations lab.

As part of the collaboration between Arizona PBS and ASU's J-school, the student-produced newscast Cronkite NewsWatch will air nightly on the station. (Photo: Cronkite School)

As part of the collaboration between Arizona PBS and ASU’s J-school, the student-produced newscast Cronkite NewsWatch will air nightly on the station. (Photo: Cronkite School)

“We really want this to be a place to model new kinds of storytelling, new kinds of audience engagement, new kinds of revenue models,” said Chris Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School. As a teaching hospital, the station will provide “intensive learning in an immersive environment for our students,” Callahan said. “Much like in a medical teaching hospital, you’re actually providing a service to the community” in the form of news and public affairs, he said.

The partnership follows other recent collaborations between universities and pubmedia stations, including the University of Missouri’s J-school and KBIA in Columbia, Mo.; the New Mexico News Port, a statewide news hub headed by the University of New Mexico in partnership with Albuquerque’s KNME and KUNM; and New Jersey TV and Montclair State University in Montclair.

Arizona PBS has not yet determined whether its staffing levels will change as a result of the collaboration. The budgets of the station and the J-school will combine, and the parties have yet to determine where they might find other financial support, said Callahan. The school and station hope to iron out details of their resource-sharing by August, in time for the start of the academic year. 

“The opportunity to not only continue what we’ve been doing but to grow our offerings massively is really spectacular,” said Arizona PBS General Manager Kelly McCullough. The Cronkite School and Arizona PBS started to discuss partnering when ASU opened its Phoenix campus in 2008.

The station is just one of 16 in the country that air local daily public affairs programming, according to a recent study by the Radio Television Digital News Association. Arizona PBS broadcasts into 80 percent of Arizona, dodging only the Tucson area served by Arizona Public Media. Its productions include Arizona Horizon, a nightly public affairs program, and Horizonte, a weekly show that examines public affairs from a Hispanic perspective. The move to the Cronkite School will add the school’s nightly newscast, Cronkite NewsWatch, to the station’s lineup.

Cronkite students report, produce and edit NewsWatch stories for college credit, working with four dedicated full-time faculty and staff advisors. The program is currently produced four days a week, but Callahan hopes to increase it to five on Arizona PBS.

The 30-minute show covers state issues including immigration, courts and wildfires, and it features reports from students at bureaus in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Callahan hopes to open a business-news bureau and a Mexico City bureau next year.

Student turnover means that NewsWatch staffers cycle through the show on an annual basis, but Callahan sees that as an advantage. “What’s it mean when you don’t have the same anchor anchoring the news for 20 years? We’ll be able to measure that,” he said.

The school’s innovation lab, which includes students from ASU’s computer-engineering, design and business programs, will develop mobile products for Arizona PBS as a primary client. Other Cronkite School initiatives that Callahan and McCullough hope to integrate into the station include the student-gathering news service News21 and the university’s Public Insight Network bureau, part of the nationwide American Public Media project.

The school opened the country’s first PIN bureau in March with support from the Knight Foundation, taking on a small handful of newsrooms as clients. Students are working to develop a sustainable business model for PIN.

This story has been updated with details about the possibility of future external funding for the collaboration.
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