Making news at Medill

Northwestern University’s journalism school unveils new opportunities for students and the entire industry

Medill Dean Charles Whitaker, Proctor & Gamble’s CCO Damon Jones, and Danielle Bell, an assistant professor at Medill, pose at a step-and-repeat. Jones was a guest speaker at Medill’s Centennial speaker series, and Bell led the discussion.
Medill Dean Charles Whitaker, Proctor & Gamble’s CCO Damon Jones, and Danielle Bell, an assistant professor at Medill, pose at a step-and-repeat. Jones was a guest speaker at Medill’s Centennial speaker series, and Bell led the discussion.

In Q4 2021, Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University made a lot of news. For example, it announced a new scholarship program, the Simmons Family Scholarship for Sports Journalism. The full-tuition scholarship will be awarded to students — preferably alumnus from a historically Black college or university (HBCU) — enrolled in the graduate-level sports journalism program.

When the scholarship was announced, Medill Dean Charles Whitaker said, “Scholarship funding for graduate students is one of our most critical needs at Medill. This level of support will make a life-changing difference for students who receive it, and I am proud that this scholarship will further bolster Medill’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

An alumna honoree, Julie Pace, executive editor at The Associated Press, was inducted into the Medill’s Hall of Achievement.

Editor & Publisher (E&P) spoke with the Medill School’s Director of Marketing, Communications and Special Events Sara Brazeal about some other new programs designed to support journalists as they embark on their careers or help news publishers build new sustainable business models.

The Medill School’s graduate students now have the option to study for a year at the Medill Investigative Program Chicago or the Medill Investigative Lab.

The programs equip journalists with practical skills, like finding and researching investigative stories, leveraging the Freedom of Information Act, working sources and interview effectively and how to analyze and present data in their storytelling.

“A couple of years ago, Medill launched the Medill Investigative Lab,” Brazeal said. “That’s an opportunity for both our undergraduate journalism students and graduate students to work on investigative reporting projects.” Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Debbie Cenziper is the Lab’s director.

“Regarding local news investigations, we recognize that local community papers don’t have the same resources as some of the larger news organizations investigating reporting, yet it’s a critical need,” Brazeal said.

The Medill School seeks to advance the industry’s quest for sustainable business models for news publishers. That’s manifesting through the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index, a tool they’ve rolled to newsrooms across the country — for large metro titles, like the Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald, to small-market community newspapers. This tool allows news publishers to observe and analyze digital news subscriber behaviors and share the insight with their peers.

“The subscriber engagement index is part of our local news initiative,” Brazeal explained. “We're now able to expand our research into what are some of the key components that news organizations can use to build more dynamic and stable business models.”

“Tim Franklin is the senior associate dean and the chair of local news. He leads the program and works very closely with our Spiegel Research Center, which has taken the lead on looking at data and determining how subscribers behave and interact with news online,” she said.

The Medill School gathered to induct graduates into its Hall of Achievement

In mid-November 2021, Medill announced that it had formed a new partnership with the Google News Initiative (GNI) — worth $2 million and named the “Data-Driven Reporting Project.” Grant monies will be awarded to investigative journalists who work for local news and outlets serving underrepresented communities in the United States and Canada.

“Local journalism is critical to the strength and health of our democracy, but sometimes journalists from smaller news outlets or freelance writers don’t have access to the technology and resources to help uncover the information their readers, listeners or viewers need to make informed decisions,” according to Charles Whitaker, dean and professor at Medill. He’s also an alumnus — the school’s first graduate to serve as its dean.

The Data-Driven Reporting Project will also provide training and other resources to the selected journalists, chosen by a panel of Medill’s faculty, professional journalists and technology experts. The qualifying recipients work on “document-based investigative projects.” They’ll be required to share data in publicly accessible repositories.

The Data-Driven Reporting Project began accepting applications in late 2021.

Gretchen A. Peck is a contributing editor to Editor & Publisher. She's reported for E&P since 2010 and welcomes comments at


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