University Station Alliance

Linking public broadcasting stations and their university partners since 2001

How a University and Public Media are Alike

Legendary newswoman Margaret Frievogel wrote in 2014, “At first glance, a news organization may seem to be an odd duck in the university family. We don’t enroll students directly. We don’t give PhDs, and few of us have them. Some critics even assert that we might have a conflict of interest working for a state university and reporting on state officials. But look deeper.

While the university and Public Media operate in different ways, we have much in common. Here’s how:

The university teaches through classes. Public media teaches through reporting. News beats, like departments, are organized by topic – politics, education, economic development, health and science, the arts and so on.

Reporters can be generalists, or they can specialize, developing deep knowledge of the beats they cover. We focus on news that matters to our cities, regions or state, and that coverage provides an ongoing education regarding issues and opportunities that surround us.

“University studies often take years. Our research is urgent.  Yet both professors and reporters aim to figure out the “why” behind what’s happening, to understand who is affected and to explore what might or should happen next.” Frievogel stated.

Professors write papers. Reporters produce stories, often multiple stories or the same topic. They not only cover what happened but circle back to analyze the roots and implications of developments. Like academic experts, public media reporters master a complex topic and then use that knowledge to enlighten others.

Some of our research is investigative. Sometimes our stories spark debate, or even controversy, just as some academic research does.

Universities and academics are dedicated to the concept of intellectual freedom.

News organization are dedicated to freedom of the press and to maintaining a firewall between the newsroom and undue influence on news coverage.

The current impasse between WUIS/Springfield and the University of Illinois is just one example of how two organizations, dedicate to the same intellectual freedoms, can come into conflict over interpretation of those freedoms.

The willingness of reporters and managers to put their jobs on the line should allay the fears of those who wonder whether public media can report aggressively on state officials or other institutions who hold their licenses.


The university works directly with students to develop critical thinking skills. Public media news organizations works by asking tough questions and challenging assumptions. Through commentaries, debates, and issue-oriented broadcasts, podcasts and online discussions, we encourage thoughtful discussion. In these ways, we nurture the critical thinking required to make informed choices and decisions.


“Both universities and public media have been swept up in the digital revolution. Its opportunities are profound, but so is its disruption of business as usual. We can – we must – reach people in ways that have changed dramatically in only a few years. Radio and our website may be our main channels, but we also connect through social media, email, partnerships and in person. We tell stories using data, video, graphics and many other tools.”

Considering how much a university and a public media organization have in common, the bond between the university and the news organization makes sense. Many licensees are public universities. In a different way, every public media station is a university for the public – accessible to everyone and entirely free.

Each organization, in its own way, helps citizens address key questions: How can we learn? How can we grow? How can we make good decisions? How can we lead fulfilling lives? How can we make [your town here] a better place?

Margaret Freivogel wrote and published an article in 2014 to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of St. Louis Public Radio and its relationship with its licensee, the University of Missouri-St Louis. In the article she articulated, better than any other I’ve ever seen, how much a university and a public media news organization have in common. That article was St. Louis centric and centered in both place and time. The concepts Freivogel espoused are thoughtful and relevant. The original electronic distribution of the article invited recipients to Share, email, and/or Tweet. I’ve taken the concepts a further step and related Freivogels’ original concepts to the national arena. Read the originial here.