Murrow College to lead $2.4 million effort to support Washington’s local news

Two students, one holding a camera stand in a messy newsroom as an older journalist works on a computer
Students from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication report on a one-man newspaper in Cottonwood, Idaho, as part of the college's annual "Rural Plunge" in 2019. Washington State University hosts the event each fall to better train students to report responsibly on underrepresented communities. Photo by Angelica Relente

A new fellowship program aims to increase news coverage of underrepresented communities across Washington state.

Funded with $2.4 million from the state legislature, the program led by Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication will pair eight early-career journalists with newsrooms for two-year, full-time reporting positions. Recruitment for the program is starting this fall with the positions beginning in 2024. The number of fellows will increase to 16 in 2025.

“Responsible journalism contributes to a stronger and healthier civic life,” said Bruce Pinkleton, dean of the Murrow College of Communication. “We believe this program will be a real benefit to citizens and to the communities in which they live and work.”

Fellows will report on civic affairs across Washington state with a focus on underrepresented communities, both rural and urban. Half of participants will be Murrow College graduates, the other half will be graduates of other universities or colleges in Washington state, and all will have completed their degree within the last five years.

News coverage across Washington state has shrunk in recent years. Twelve of Washington state’s 39 counties had only one newspaper, according to a 2022 study by Northwestern University.

“The crisis in local news has a profound impact on civic life in our state,” said Benjamin Shors, chair of the department of Media and Journalism Production, who will be overseeing the fellowship. “This innovative program reflects the university’s land-grant mission to serve the people of Washington, wherever they live.”

Fellows will be required to complete training and participate in discussions with leaders in journalism, media law, ethics, digital security, misinformation, civic information, community engagement, public information access, and related topics resulting in a certificate in digital media.

The fellowship program was championed by Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser and Sen. Marko Liias.

“A strong press is fundamental to a thriving democracy,” said Keiser, a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and veteran of newsrooms in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington. “I know what it means for the press corps to hold elected officials’ feet to the fire, and it’s an important part of our democratic process that we can’t let slip away in towns around our state.”

The goal of the Murrow News Fellowship is to provide coverage of underrepresented communities, train emerging journalists to cover them responsibly, and support research to better understand how the lack of news affects the state. In consultation with industry leaders, the college will produce an annual report on the fellowship program and the state of the media in Washington state. An advisory board is also being formed to provide feedback as needed.

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