The relationship between journalists and American colleges and universities has changed a great deal in the last 60 years, according to a recent paper by Kalev Leetaru, the coordinator of information technology and research at the Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois.

According to Leetaru’s research

More than 18 million documents comprising the entire run of the New York Times from 1945 to 2005 were examined for all references to United States research universities… to examine how coverage has changed over this period and the characteristics most commonly associated with elevated national press visibility. One of the most surprising findings is the transition of the research university from a newsmaker to a news commentator.

In 1946, 53% of articles mentioning a research university were about that university, focusing on its research or activities. Today, just 15% of articles mentioning a university are about that university: the remaining 85% simply cite high-stature faculty for soundbite commentary on current events.

It’s a little unclear if this transition is a reflection of the changing university or the changing news media but it’s an interesting shift either way.

Newspaper coverage today no longer maintains a regular section about university news; newspapers appear to mostly use university expertise simply to comment on other news.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer