In Time of Disruption, Media Companies and Colleges Look to Each Other for Help

January 05, 2015

As the information age shifts the earth beneath their feet, colleges and media companies are grabbing onto each other for support.

There were a slew of announcements this past fall about journalism outlets and education institutions that are collaborating on courses—and, in at least one case, a full-fledged degree program. The University of Southern California is joining forces with Wired; Northeastern University with Esquire; the Financial Times with a group of business schools; and the University of Oklahoma with the History Channel.

Details of those collaborations vary, but in general they point to a shared sense of urgency in the two industries, both of which are under pressure to innovate.

In some cases, the partners are making such innovation the subject of their work together. Southern California’s school of art and design is teaming up with Wired to build a partially online master’s degree in integrated design, business, and technology. The program, which is slated to open next fall, promises students access to staffers at Wired and opportunities to work with designers there.

The university says it will turn students into "innovative thought leaders" who are equipped to solve "complex business, manufacturing, and design problems" and use "data and information technologies to enhance invention and productivity," according to a statement provided to The Chronicle. (Southern California would not share the details of its business arrangement with Wired and Condé Nast, the magazine’s parent company.)

‘Reimagine’ Media

Northeastern University and Esquire are collaborating at a smaller scale, but with a similar innovation-oriented goal. This spring, the university’s journalism school will run a course where students will take traditional pieces in the Esquire archive and "reimagine" them for a digital audience.

Tyler Cabot, senior features editor at Esquire, says the magazine is looking for new ways of "selling and telling" stories. Part of Mr. Cabot’s job, he says, is to figure out how to "reuse and resurface" pieces that have already been published.

The work of the Northeastern journalism students will not necessarily be published in Esquire, he says. But the magazine hopes the students will, at least, give its own designers some new ideas. "We get to understand new ways of telling stories," says Mr. Cabot, "that we can possibly bridge into our own way of thinking."

"This is an old, old model—that commerce turns to academics for R&D," says Jeff Howe, the assistant professor at Northeastern who is overseeing the partnership.

Mr. Howe says he thinks the collaboration could also shake things up at Northeastern. "Students should be doing work for real," he says, not just assignments for a class.

This is not the first time media companies and universities have tried making courses together. In 2007, The New York Times unveiled a digital education arm. The New York Times Knowledge Network, as it was called, arranged to provide technology and marketing services, along with content from the newspaper’s archives and access to its journalists, to several universities, including Southern California. The network never took off, and the Times closed it in 2012.

Steve Kolowich writes about how colleges are changing, and staying the same, in the digital age. Follow him on Twitter @stevekolowich, or write to him at

Corrections (1/7/2015, 12:18 p.m.): This article originally misidentified an institution that teamed up with the History Channel. It was the University of Oklahoma, not Oklahoma State University. The article also misstated the role played by Jeff Howe in the partnership between Esquire and Northeastern University. He is overseeing the partnership, not leading the course. The article has been updated to reflect those corrections.