MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Owning and operating a newspaper seems like a dream of the past but it is, in fact, still a reality that is being made easier through a West Virginia University program.
The WVU Reed College of Media’s Media Innovation Center has developed the year-long NewStart fellowship, a program that will work to help train students about operating a community-based newspaper and work with students to help them purchase the right newspaper for them.
Jim Iovino, the program coordinator, said the idea came about a few years ago as a collaboration between the College of Media and the West Virginia Press Association.
“They realized that there was a need in the newspaper community to find the next generation of newspaper owners because the current generation, really they’re coming to the end of their life cycles,” Iovino explained. “They’re really struggling to find who is going to take over next and there’s really no succession plan for them basically.”
The idea then, Iovino said, is to find somebody who will move to the newspaper’s community, be a part of that community, while running a community newspaper the way it should be run.
Iovino said once someone joins the program they will receive help targeting the right newspaper, in the right part of the country for them. He said they work with local press associations to help evaluate the sale and to make sure that it’s the right decision for everybody.
“Their other options are to sell to one of the corporate chains or to lose the paper altogether, so they don’t want that to happen,” he said. “They want to find someone that will take care of this newspaper and take care of this community like they have done for years and years and years so that’s where the Newstart program actually comes into play.”
The deadline to apply is Jan 31., you don’t have to be a journalist, you merely need to have a bachelor’s degree and a desire to purchase a newspaper once the year-long course is complete. Iovino said there are already around 30 applicants and the only fellowship in 2020 starts in July.
Applicants will spend most of their time doing course work online, so there’s no need to be situated in Morgantown, Iovino said. However, he added that there will be several hands-on workshops, where everyone will attend in order to learn directly from local news organizations and faculty about operating a paper.
“We work with them on the business plans,” he said. “And once they buy it we will give them about a year or so of guidance to make sure that they’re on the right path.”
The fellowship is possible through initial funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and a $200,000 investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.