Keynote: The New Newsroom

Fostering Collaborative Learning During 'Tainted Water,' a National Student Journalism Project


Steve Lillebuen, Instructor, Department of Communication, Macewan University, Edmonton, AB and recipient of the Arthur Ellis Award for his first non-fiction book.


"Journalism is undergoing a profound transformation. Media scholar Mark Deuze argues that large newsrooms are being replaced with a fragmented workforce of entrepreneurial journalists-a tech-savvy, globally-minded group who work together on projects from locations around the world. Therefore, a challenge for journalism educators is teaching students how to succeed in an increasingly collaborative, horizontally networked, and fragmented industry.

Last year, a group of journalism professors came together with the aim of solving this problem. How can we teach collaborative skills in the classroom when collaboration in journalism is occurring between cities and countries? The result was "Tainted Water," a major investigative series led by student journalists from nine universities with key findings published in The Toronto Star and broadcast on Global News.

In this talk, I will outline how undergraduate students at MacEwan University learned by doing-in this case, investigative journalism through the creation of a national reporting network to examine lead in drinking water. The network was facilitated by the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University to simulate the real-world trend of collaborative journalism. It was also an experiential learning strategy focused on completing a team-based assignment. The 15 students in my class knocked on hundreds of doors across Edmonton and Alberta, and conducted dozens of interviews, before collecting water samples from residents, which were then sent to accredited labs for analysis. They weren't alone. Pooling skills and resources, my students used online tools and forums to share their research and problem-solve with students from Vancouver to Halifax.

During this talk, I will discuss strategies for managing a collaborative project and how to partner with another department, university, or with industry. I will also share reflections from students involved in the project, the impact it had on their learning, and comment on the links to employability."


Steve Lillebuen has a PhD in journalism and is an instructor for the Department of Communication at MacEwan University. He teaches courses in communication, investigative journalism, interviewing, and online news reporting.

As a journalist, he has worked in newsrooms in Canada and Australia, and he brings that experience into the classroom to explore how journalism could be practiced in the future.

A recipient of the Arthur Ellis Award for his first non-fiction book, he is completing his second book while continuing with his research into journalism ethics and crime reporting practices in the digital age.