By Carolyn Shapiro

Most months of the year, the Columbia Missourian newspaper operates with about 75 reporters and 11 editors. Other publications large and small can only dream of a staff of that size – or even a quarter of it.

The reporters are journalism students at the University of Missouri, and the editors are faculty of the school, professional journalists who teach classes. By the time the journalism majors reach their junior year, they work regular shifts in the Missourian newsroom, which is considered one of the university’s “news labs” for hands-on experience.
Missouri’s program dates to the starting of the journalism school in 1908, when its founders simultaneously launched the Missourian as a training ground. The paper has published ever since.

Today, the Missourian comes out in print five days a week, skipping Monday and Saturday, and constantly updates its digital edition. Besides the reporting staff, students work as copy editors, page designers, photographers and photo editors, and social media producers. And they contribute stories for more than a dozen special sections each year – for Homecoming weekend, for example, or during tourist seasons.

“Our reporters, when they graduate from here, already have two years of experience working in a newsroom,” said Bryan Chester, the Missourian’s general manager. When pursuing their first jobs, “they don’t go in green. They know what to do. They know how to work the back end of the CMS (content management system). They understand page layouts. They’re better storytellers. And it’s because they’ve effectively been doing the job already for two years. That’s the edge we have.”

In their junior year, the journalism students take Reporting I for three credits and start working 15 to 20 hours per week in the Missourian newsroom. Every other week, they work a general assignment shift, picking up any breaking news throughout the course of an eight-hour day, while they come and go for classes. The students are also assigned to beats and keep up with stories related to their area of coverage. And they’re on duty one weekend day per semester.

Each beat is covered by groups of 15 to 18 students, depending on enrollment, who report to one of four city editors assigned to those beats: higher education; K-12 education; city or county government; and communities. Two sports editors oversee students covering local high school games and Mizzou teams.

“It was city council last night,” said Elizabeth Stephens, the Missourian’s executive editor and a journalism faculty member, referring to the regular meeting of Columbia city government. “So my city-county government editor was here waiting for that meeting to end to edit the story and get it live and in print.”

Stephens considers that work ethic when hiring faculty to work as editors, who are paid fully by the university. They typically teach one three-hour lecture class per week and spend the rest of their time managing reporters in the Missourian newsroom. During the four-week winter break, each beat editor takes one week on duty at the Missourian. In the summer, which is two seven-week sessions, they spend one in the newsroom and take the other for vacation and professional development, Stephens said.

Other journalism faculty serve as news directors and producers in Mizzou’s radio and television programs – KOMU, the local NBC TV affiliate, and public radio station KBIA. In their sophomore year, journalism students choose their preferred track in broadcast, audio or digital and print. On the print side, in addition to the Missourian, students can opt to write for Vox, a monthly arts-and-culture magazine that’s inserted into the newspaper, or a business publication, Missouri Business Alert.

“We are looking for people that are in the profession and want to come, get to still do news and teach,” Stephens said. “We’re recruiting from industry when we hire faculty.”

After Reporting I, students move on to the advanced-level Reporting II class, where they can use their experience to pursue more in-depth and enterprise stories, and sink their teeth into particular coverage areas. “They get to have a little more say over what they want to cover and how they approach that, what their goals are,” Stephens said. Sports writers, for example, might start out covering high school sports and, when they get to Reporting II, take on the Mizzou football or basketball beat.

The bulk of the Missourian’s operating budget of about $1.3 million comes from advertising revenue and subscriptions, Chester said. The newspaper also gets an annual fee from the university for serving as a lab, which accounts for about a third of its revenue stream. The budget covers the pay of about six business staffers, including a couple of students who work part-time on the business operations side. The Missourian also pays a small group of students who work during winter and summer breaks.

The Missourian is printed at the nearby Jefferson City News Tribune and delivered to about 2,500 subscribers, though a small number of copies are mailed to subscribers who live outside the town’s environs.

Last year, Mizzou created the One Newsroom, a news hub at the Missourian’s longtime campus home in Lee Hills Hall. The One Newsroom brought all of the university’s newsrooms – other than the KOMU TV station -- under one roof for easier collaboration between the platforms. It allows more flexibility for students to try different modes of storytelling or work with colleagues in other newsrooms on projects, such as a recent series on rural Missouri, Stephens said.

The large group of student reporters enables comprehensive city and local coverage and the opportunity to experiment, Chester said.

“We have an army of reporters that simply can’t be matched, so we can cover things that don’t otherwise get covered,” he said. “We effectively have a newsroom the size of a major metro, and that affords us the ability to just cover everything and to try things.”

For more information: 

Fact Sheet

The Columbia Missourian