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When Classroom Becomes Newsroom: Columbia Journalism Students Publish Own Weekly, Bronx Beat


Reporters covering breaking news in city politics. Editors who haggle over budgets and hound reporters to meet deadlines. Line editors who look for clear and engaging copy. A weekly news meeting where the paper‚s „booked,š then page-proofing and headline-writing, and before long, off to the printer.

Typical happenings at a metropolitan daily newspaper. And typical, too, of the halls of Columbia University‚s Graduate School of Journalism, where students are publishing The Bronx Beat, a weekly newspaper assigned, reported, written and photographed by members of the Class of 1999. Now in its 18th year and recently redesigned by Neil Boulton, design director for special projects at Time Inc., the publication serves readers in the South and Central Bronx and covers such urban issues as schools, jobs and unemployment, health care, education, crime, mass transportation, religion and the arts.

„The Bronx Beat gives Columbia graduate students the chance to work on a real newspaper that serves more than a student audience,š said Professor Ken Brief, who is, with Professor Robin Reisig, the paper‚s advisor. „They get feedback from their readers at the same time that they are learning from seasoned veterans of the New York City media.š

The paper is produced by a team of 35 students who are enrolled in a newspaper workshop. Two co-editors are assigned and serve for two weeks at a time, assigning reporters to stories and performing all the traditional -- and often unexpected -- responsibilities of a tabloid editor. Graduate students enrolled in the School‚s photojournalism workshop, taught by Sara Barrett, shoot most of the photographs for the newspaper; others are taken by The Bronx Beat reporters.

Students‚ stories are edited not only by their colleagues, but also by professional journalists who might one day be their bosses. Adjunct editors from The New York Times, Newsday, The Daily News, and other publications line-edit copy and help with the paper‚s layout. Other seasoned editors and reporters are brought in to critique the publication.

Christine Haughney, a graduate student who will have her turn editing later this semester, has written about health care issues for the paper, publishing stories that focused on home health care in the Bronx, lead paint, and a doctor who left a practice on the Upper East Side to care for children in Bronx. „I came to Columbia‚s Journalism School to learn to be a better storyteller,š said Haughney, „and to tell the types of stories I‚ve seen in the South Bronx. It‚s also been a great opportunity to learn from experts in the field -- I‚ve worked with reporters from Newsday and the Wall Street Journal -- and to have such high standards of editing applied to my work.š

Published Mondays from mid-February through mid-May, The Bronx Beat is distributed free at selected locations in the South Bronx, including the offices of Community Boards 1-6 and 9; the Hunts Point, Melrose and Mott Haven branches of the New York Public Library; the Bronx County building; the Bronx General Post Office and Jimmy‚s Bronx Cafe. Its circulation is approximately 6,000. The on-line version, which contains excerpts from the print version, can be found at

„This is one of the best examples of public service at this university that I know of, as we serve one of the city's most under-served communities, the South Bronx,š said advisor Robin Reisig. „The students do a wonderful job of digging up original, textured stories important to people's lives.š

The Bronx Beat is one of several workshops through which Columbia journalism students gain practical experience in different types of print and broadcast media, from newspapers, magazines, and photography, to television, radio, and new media. Students enrolled in the Columbia News Service workshop write, edit and distribute features about New York life to newspapers around the country via The New York Times News Service and the School‚s own Web site.

Others research, write, shoot, and edit field pieces, as well as news from wire services and network transmissions, for a fully produced half-hour news program twice weekly. Students in the New Media workshop report and create stories using multimedia tools and techniques. Their recent on-line projects have included „Third Rail,š providing New York City election coverage; „Core New York,š a guide for reporters; and „Naked NY,š exploring the nature of the city.

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