UTEP and El Paso provide the perfect crucible for a new kind of journalism in Borderzine

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EL PASO – As the traditional delivery of news by newspapers and television stations weakened during the past decade, swept aside by the Internet and the Great Recession, a new medium driven by the college journalism classroom has gained strength in local news coverage.

Our Internet magazine, Borderzine.com, published by the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) as the keystone of its journalism curriculum is a good example of this new media concept that marries journalism training, local coverage, and funding from nonprofit organizations.

The transfer of some traditional revenue sources to Internet media has forced some “old” media to cut staffs and curtail coverage. Some were forced into bankruptcy. While my alma mater, The Miami Herald is still in business, its publisher has announced that the majestic Herald building on Biscayne Bay was sold to a Malaysian resort developer and the newspaper will have to move out.

(Raymundo Aguirre/Borderzine.com)

El Paso and Ciudad Juárez blend as just one city. (Raymundo Aguirre/Borderzine.com)

I will never forget the first time I walked into the lobby of that building in 1976. The small-town paper I was working on at the time could fit, newsroom and all, in the lobby. I was speechless as I walked into newspaper heaven.

As we developed Borderzine, starting four years ago, it became apparent to me that we were creating a new kind of media – not underwritten by subscriptions or ad sales and not funded entirely by grants.

I realized that the university was the key to its existence and success.

Different from the traditional college newspaper, Borderzine was not dedicated to covering the school. Instead it covered a concept – borders that separate and join countries, people, and ideas. Our only obligation was to teach the highest standards of journalism in the classroom’s protected environment and make our stories interesting to thousands of readers around the world.

Student journalists using the Internet and its multimedia capabilities were occupying a new niche that borrowed from all aspects of traditional journalism but was not reliant on advertising or subscriptions and was not beholden to the particular philosophies that accompany grant money.

In El Paso we had the perfect crucible. UTEP is the intellectual soul of this city, anchoring culture and research in powerful ways that I have not seen universities do in other cities.

In other words, the news was with us and our students were our staff.

And readers are finding us. During the dog days of summer, Borderzine published a multimedia project we named Mexodus, which described the exodus of middle-class Mexicans fleeing the lawlessness and violence that has crippled the Mexican border region during the past four years. Some 80 student journalists and their teachers from UTEP and three other universities here and in Mexico worked for a year on the project and traditional media in the U.S. and Mexico also published our articles, charts, photos and videos.

With Mexodus, our normal circulation surged during August and September to 20,470 readers viewing 37,773 pages.

Traditional media is not displaced. Far from it. As smarter “old” media adjusts to new media concepts, it never cedes its mandate to provide the information crucial to ensuring our democratic way of life. The Borderzine concept enhances and provides additional texture and depth to the reporting provided by “mainstream” and non-traditional media. The two-dozen fresh journalists who walk into the Bordezine newsroom each semester are adding value to that public conversation.

I can only hope they feel they’re walking into journalism heaven.

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