This past weekend, a small group of participants in the "New Voices" grant project met in Washington, D.C., for a roundtable discussion sponsored by the J-Lab at the University of Maryland. Many of the projects offered great examples of how good old-fashioned community journalism was being adapted to a very high-tech age.
Although all of the programs discussed there were intereting, there were a few that I thought would be of particular interest to members of the Community Journalism Interest Group (I was at the meeting as a "New Voices" grantee; Peggy Kuhr, our tireless COMJIG leader, was there as a member of the "New Voices" board).
-- Cristine Azocar at San Francisco State Univ. has created the Ethnic News Service, a student-driven project in which journalism students are "embedded" in ethnic community organizations to generate content for an estimated 700 ethnic media outlets in California. The service is expected to go online later this year, but examples of student work so far is impressively connected to communities. The Ethnic News Service is part of SFSU's Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism (www.ciij.org), which Cristine directs.
-- Keith Graham at the Univ. of Montana has partnered with Courtney Lowery of Missoula-based NewWest.net to develop "Montana's Rural News Network," which is to be a series of community-based Web sites that eventually would feed a statewide news service. The first site, based in Dutton, Mont. (Lowery's hometown, about three hours from Missoula), was created to fill the void left when the farming community's newspaper stopped publishing. The project pairs j-school students at U. Montana with resident of Dutton to generate and edit content, giving the former some real connections with their "adopted" community and the latter some exposure to formal journalism. The Web site is expected to launch later this year.
-- Barbara Iverson and Suzanne McBride of Columbia College in Chicago have teamed up on "Creating Community Connections" (http://creatingcommunityconnections.org), a Web portal that provides a venue for hyperlocal news in several Chicago neighborhoods. The project was inspired by the decline of neighborhood news coverage by existing media (i.e., the "big papers" in Chicago have not cover basic activities of local aldermen, local schools, etc.). Content is provided by both journalism students and local citizens, and is grouped by neighborhood and by topic.
-- Fellow COMJIG member Maryanne Reed, dean of the j-school at West Virginia Univ., is working on the "Monroe County Radio Project," which is training people in rural Monroe County, W.Va., to produce news content for their small radio station, WHFI-FM, operated by the Monroe County school district. Along with WVU journalism students and partners from West Virginia Public Radio, Reed is training teenagers and adults in Monroe County to produce radio news segments, with the eventual goal to provide daily 15-minute newscasts, monthly public-affairs reports, and a Web site for the radio station that provides news and community information. (Judging from the clip Maryanne played, at least one of the high schoolers working on the project is a natural for broadcasting -- great voice, smooth delivery, superb timing.)
-- Thomas Petner at Temple University's Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab has launched the "Building Blocks" project (http://www.temple.edu/MURL/buildingblocks2007.htm), which is a block-by-block "Webography" of multimedia reports from many of Philadelphia's neighborhoods. The project pushes students off the campus and out of the comfort zones into the sometimes intimidating neighborhoods of Philly. The students generate feature content -- stories, interviews, videos -- and then package that content with links to neighborhood-specific information (maps, local ordinances, community organizations, etc.).
-- Mia Frederick, project manager of the Community Correspondent Corps at Appalshop based in Whitesburg, Ky. (www.appalshop.org/ccc), is training local residents to produce their own radio reports to be broadcast to the community via WMMT-FM, the radio station operated by Appalshop. The project provides volunteers with access to high-end recording equipment, and training to use the equipment.
Although the many different high-tech approaches of those projects were intriguing and inspiring (especially the $120 handheld video recorder Petner uses in his project ... very cool!), many of the recurring themes were right out of the community journalism playbook: encouraging students to get familiar with communities, rather than just cover breaking news in them; recruiting, retaining, and replacing contributors from the community (those of us who ran op-ed pages at community newspapers know all about that, eh?); getting students to appreciate the value of hyperlocal news; generating awareness among students that the standards of "journalism" may not always serve the interests and standards of their communities; and creating a sense of ownership in the product among people in the community.
It's encouraging to see how community journalism has been rediscovered in the "new media" age and is being applied in new and interesting ways.