In his 2015 obituary for American Journalism Review (published in Columbia Journalism Review), Mike Hoyt mourned the passing of a Washington institution that had the muscle to tackle ambitious stories about the media business.
In a world rife with shallow criticism, Hoyt argued, AJR's passing meant one less newsroom full of reporters working the phones and calling B.S. on their professional peers when they had cause.
Scott Nover, a senior at George Washington University, thinks it's a shame AJR closed, too. The 21-year-old journalism major from Cherry Hill, New Jersey says there's a void in press criticism in Washington, D.C., one he's hoping his classmates can help fill.
On Monday, Nover aims to do just that with MediaFile, a forthcoming news organization under the auspices of George Washington University. The website, which will be run by student reporters and editors, will serve up news and criticism in a media capital that's lacking a dedicated watchdog, he said.
"I realized that with American Journalism Review closing last year, there are no outlets completely dedicated to media news and media criticism in the D.C. area," Nover said. "There's definitely media reporters. There's some at Politico, at The Post, at Fishbowl. But there's no one outlet that's completely dedicated to media news and criticism."
Nover, the publication's editor in chief, will be joined by more than two dozen of his fellow students, who will contribute on a volunteer basis. He forecasts "a mix of everything" from the soon-to-be-launched publication, including video content, which will come via a multimedia team.
MediaFile will emphasize quality over quantity, Nover said, publishing most of its content on Mondays and Thursdays and occasionally publishing breaking stories as they come along. To start, many of the articles will be relatively timeless, giving his reporters a chance to find the rhythm of the media beat. Early stories will tackle press freedom in Turkey following the recent thwarted coup, newspaper endorsements in the presidential election and American coverage of the Zika virus, Nover said.
Gradually, the team will work its way into some bigger stories that have been canvassed thoroughly elsewhere: the press' role in the rise of Donald Trump, the ouster of Fox News boss Roger Ailes and the consolidation of media, to name a few.
"As they evolve, we'll definitely cover them and think about more long-term, thoughtful pieces," Nover said. "But the media cycle moves so quickly that it's tough launching in the middle of everything. So in the beginning, you'll see more evergreen content from us."
Nover acknowledges the inherent challenge of launching a publication during his senior year. As he graduates and pursues his ambition of becoming a media reporter, Nover won't be around to shepherd MediaFile through its early years. But the publication gets some continuity from its board of directors, which will include The Washington Post's Debbie Cenziper (a George Washington professor) and multiple George Washington alumni.
To start, MediaFile won't sell advertising, Nover said. The site will firm up its business model after achieving nonprofit status and focus on building its audience in the meantime. The university has promised some initial funding, but that won't be forthcoming until MediaFile is formally granted nonprofit status.
Nover acknowledges that providing critical coverage of journalists many years his senior might be a tricky enterprise. But if things go according to plan, the work of the website will be a daily learning experience.
"It's a definite criticism: Why are students reporting on things that they haven't been exposed to yet?" Nover said. "But we feel like this is a great opportunity for us to learn as students and for our writers to get a better sense of the media environment. And then they'll go out into the world and become journalists."