Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.
CNS operates as a three-credit course (formally listed as MASC 475) during spring semesters, when the General Assembly is in session. Each CNS student is assigned to serve one or more clients. Students must devote substantial time outside class to CNS — at least 10 hours a week. The students in MASC 475 meet twice a week to discuss and plan stories and work on reporting and writing skills.
During the fall semesters, the CNS system occasionally is used to distribute stories students do for other courses, such as MASC 404 (Specialized/Projects Reporting). Throughout the year, CNS can help newspaper editors find VCU students who can do freelance stories, internships and other assignments.
Wilma Wirt, who has since retired from the mass comm faculty, established CNS in 1994 for two reasons:
- To give VCU’s journalism students an opportunity to actively cover and write about the Virginia General Assembly.
- To give the state’s weekly, twice-weekly and thrice-weekly newspapers better access to the legislature — something Wirt deemed important in the everyday lives of all Virginians.
CNS in the News
The Winter 2018 issue of Virginia Capitol Connections magazine included an article about the program.
CNS was featured on “This Week in Richmond.” with state Capitol veteran David Bailey. The segment aired on WCVE, Central Virginia’s PBS station, in February 2018.
The program was featured in VCU News in February 2017: “Making headlines: VCU journalism students are covering the General Assembly for 90 news outlets and feeding stories to the Associated Press”
The same month, WVTF / Radio IQ aired a story about CNS: “VCU Students Fill Journalism Void in Richmond”
The program also received favorable publicity when we struck a content-sharing agreement in 2013 with the CNS program at the University of Maryland: “Virginia Commonwealth University Partners with University of Maryland to Expand Capital News Service”
In 2004, CNS was featured in an article in Presstime, the magazine of the Newspaper Association of America. In the article, Pam Lettie, then editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror, praised CNS, saying: “It helps our editorial content because we don’t have staff in Richmond full time, so the students can be our eyes and ears, giving us localized stories specific to our area.” Here is the Presstime article.