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ASU gets $5.3 million boost for business-journalism plans

Arizona State University is getting $5.3 million to strengthen its business-journalism offerings, and with the economy making daily headlines, the timing couldn’t be better, journalism officials said.

Fallout from complex and non-transparent financial instruments have left economies reeling. That shows how important it is to train journalists to handle a more sophisticated business climate, said Andrew Leckey, ASU’s founding director of the Donald Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.

Two grants from the Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation will endow a faculty chair in business journalism, extend the contract for the Reynolds Center for three more years beginning in mid-2009 and create special undergraduate and graduate degrees in business journalism. ASU will be one of only a handful of universities offering business specialties in journalism.

“We have had recessions before, but I think this is a year for real soul-searching for everyone about money and finances and debt and how our futures are affected by the whole global financial system,” said Leckey, who will become the endowed chair and president of the center.

Since it was founded in 2003, the Reynolds center has trained about 8,000 reporters and editors at seminars around the country to help them better understand financial operations, annual reports, balance sheets and other business matters.

But it became clear that students needed more training specifically in business journalism as graduates or undergraduates so they could be more confident when working business stories, Leckey said.

“The magnitude of this (economy) has really unleashed the journalist of the future. I think it is no-holds-barred now. We hope to have tenacious graduates who don’t hate business but who are knowledgeable about it and can explain it,” he said.

Christopher Callahan, dean of Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU, said the business specialty will better prepare journalists.

“To really write and report (on business issues) well, you really need to understand them,” Callahan said. “And we do think that requires a different level of sophistication and nuance than the typical general-assignment reporter we train here.”

The Reynolds Foundation currently has one business journalism chair, at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. It is adding three more: at ASU, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Nevada-Reno.

They will be coordinated by the Reynolds center at ASU.

The foundation also will fund the Reynolds High School Journalism Institute, which will bring 35 high-school journalism advisers from around the country to ASU each summer for training.

The Reynolds center is in the $71 million Cronkite building in downtown Phoenix, which opened in August.

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