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Training journalists for niche markets

New fellowship program to help doctors, lawyers and financiers.

BY ROB THOMAS | OCT 11 2011

A new graduate-level fellowship program at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs aims to teach people with subject matter knowledge – which could include doctors, lawyers, business people and others – how to be working journalists and sell their stories to publications and broadcasters around the world by specializing in their area of expertise. The program would offer 10 one-year fellowships starting in September 2012.

Robert Steiner was appointed head of a new Journalism Lab at the Munk school in October 2010 with the aim of establishing the new program. Mr. Steiner, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and former communications executive at U of T, says much of the recent media growth has been in niche markets, such as science journals, specialty magazines or financial news services. But, despite that shift, he says most journalism schools are still focused on training general assignment reporters for jobs at a city newspaper.

“What we wanted to do is to switch the equation a little bit, and rather than try to teach a couple of courses in the basics of science or the basics of business to a general-assignment kind of person, we wanted to go and get folks who already have an advanced knowledge of a given area and teach them how to cover their discipline as global journalists,” says Mr. Steiner.

The fellowships will combine introductory courses in journalism, entrepreneurship and global affairs with a mentored practicum that would see students produce freelance stories throughout the eight-month program.

Mr. Steiner had originally floated the idea of a master’s program, but now says the need for tenured faculty and a fixed curriculum made that idea unworkable. One needs to be “radically flexible from year to year … in order to really participate in the experiment that is journalism today,” he says.

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