Forging community bonds: University-public radio collaborations strengthen journalism


As media content focuses on the “disintegration” of the news industry, there are also less-reported stories about organizations on the local level focused on strengthening journalism for their communities. The University of Vermont’s (UVM) Center for Community News (CCN) is one of these organizations. Its mission is to help universities and local news outlets improve their collaboration to give students more journalism experience, provide local news outlets with more reporting and deliver more news to their communities.

To better understand the current level of collaboration between universities and public radio stations, CCN surveyed public radio stations in the summer of 2023, receiving 95 responses from stations in 38 states. There are 182 public radio station licenses associated with universities.

Meg Little Reilly is the managing director of CCN and one of the authors of the survey report “Building Synergy: Public Radio and Universities.”

“What prompted some of the questions in the survey is public media newsrooms are suffering from many of the same economic conditions as print newsrooms, and they need a new model to remain sustainable. We think formalizing and institutionalizing this relationship with local universities can be that model,” Little Reilly said.

The three primary challenges to creating more university-public radio collaboration are:

  • Cost.
  • Not enough staff to oversee student reporting.
  • Inadequate institutional support from their university.

Over 75% of the responding public radio stations involve students in reporting news, and 91% would like to enhance that collaboration. However, these collaborations are limited to traditional internships, and just 10% of these radio stations participate in the teaching of journalism at a local university.

“Historically, a university will provide a couple of interns to a public radio station. It’s a great experience for those students, but not a formal relationship to create a reliable and steady pipeline of student reporters. We want to establish agreements in which the university has a dedicated course on public media news production, more students who can do meaningful reporting semester to semester and the stations can rely on them as regular contributors in their newsrooms,” Little Reilly said.

Scott Finn, manager of public media/university collaborations, Center for Community News

At the end of 2023, Scott Finn, former president and CEO of Vermont Public, joined CCN as the manager of public media/university collaborations to assist universities and public radio stations in strengthening or launching collaborations.

He is applying his experience from Vermont Public and UVM’s four-year contract to split the cost of a full-time faculty member. He said this allows an entire class to work on stories for the station and gain much more experience.

“Having full-time journalists and editors teach classes is great for the students, but it’s difficult for these people who are very busy covering the communities to teach journalism on the side. The survey showed most public radio stations want a deeper relationship with their university, but they don’t know how or lack the resources. My job is to work with them individually to determine the best solution to make that happen,” Finn said.

Finn added that CCN is partnering with the University Station Alliance to create a series of six webinars. The first is entitled “I’m Completely Booked. Why Should I Do This and How Do I Get Started?” Visit the CCN events for more information.

“We’ll do this study again to see how these partnerships grew and determine what we learned during the past year. We know news-academic partnerships must be tailored to the culture, existing media ecosystem and the interest of the university and students,” Little Reilly said.

“Building Synergy: Public Radio and Universities” report is available from the Center for Community News on the UVM website.

Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010.  He can be reached at


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