The partnership offers students crime-reporting experience at one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the country while The Times receives content for a Homicide Report that tells personal stories of the hundreds of people killed in Los Angeles County every year. The first student article, written by Andrew Khouri (M.A. Print Journalism ’11), was published Jan. 27 and chronicled the life and killing of 24-year-old Charles Montgomery. It is The Times’ goal to give readers a complete picture of who dies in homicides, where, and why – thus conveying both the personal story and the statistical story with greater accuracy and providing a forum for readers to remember victims and discuss violence.
“This is a wonderful partnership in so many ways,” said Geneva Overholser, director of the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, where Neon Tommy is based. “Our students get the experience of working with a distinguished newspaper and also of seeing their work widely read. The Los Angeles Times is able to extend its reach on this critically important project, even as their resources are under pressure. And we’re advancing the visibility of collaboration, a concept of growing importance in journalism.”
The Homicide Report strives to augment basic facts about murdered Angelenos with additional reporting about those cases, as well as other subjects relevant to homicides.
“Since the first days of the Homicide Report in 2007, our goal has been to tell two stories about violent death in Los Angeles – the overall statistical portrayal of who dies, how they are killed and where, as well as the individual portraits of the human beings behind those numbers,” said David Lauter, assistant managing editor at The Times. “Collaborating with USC will allow us to tell far more of those human stories and, at the same time, help develop the next generation of L.A. journalists.”
Student reporters at Neon Tommy, an online digital news Web site launched in February, 2009, to fill a void in local and national news, said they are thrilled about working with The Times. With a core of 25 student editors, the site publishes content from about 75 USC Annenberg students.
“To have the opportunity to share your work with that many people is amazing,” Khouri said. “It's great to get feedback from working journalists at The Times, which adds to what we already receive in the classroom. We are definitely excited about it and feel we can produce a lot of great work.”
Alan Mittelstaedt , managing editor of Annenberg Digital News, which publishes Neon Tommy, said Khouri’s recent article in The Times is a prime example of how this partnership can work.
“It was as good of a story as a 15-year veteran at a newspaper could have done,” Mittelstaedt said.
Mittelstaedt will assign journalism students to profile the lives and deaths of victims after the weekly coroner's report is delivered. During the last three years, that has amounted to 2,603 reported murders in Los Angeles County.
“In three years, there’s almost no way to cover all of the personal stories,” said LA Times deputy Metro editor Megan Garvey, who oversees The Times’ California section interactive projects. “Even to provide minimal information on every homicide is a substantial endeavor. In working with student journalists, there is an opportunity to cover killings that wouldn’t have otherwise appeared in the news, and in a lot of ways those become the most significant stories when they all are compiled."
Mittelstaedt said the Neon Tommy reporters are hungry for real-world experiences.
“This collaboration gives them a chance to put their best work on a crucial topic before a huge audience,” he said. “It's all part of the revolution in media and journalism education. The days when students' top-notch work lands on a professor's desk, and stays there, are over."
Neon Tommy deputy editor Kevin Douglas Grant (M.A. Online Journalism ’11) said the opportunity to be published by The Times will be helpful for students looking for careers in journalism.
“The partnership is an honor,” Grant said. “To partner with a beacon such as The Times is amazing, especially after only one year of Neon Tommy being established. The reporters on this team definitely deserve it. This connection confirms we have a lot of professionals at different media organizations working toward a common goal of covering the stories of Los Angeles.”