January 04, 2018

Monday is deadline for nominations for major journalism ethics award; nominate a community journalist!

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Monday is the deadline to nominate journalists for the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, presented by The Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the six years the award has been presented, none of the winners have been rural journalists. None may have been nominated, but I think there should be no shortage of qualified candidates because rural journalists frequently deal with ethical challenges. I teach my community journalism students that it is more difficult do do good journalism in rural areas, partly because of the constant conflict that rural journalists must deal with, between their professional responsibilities and their personal desires.

The Anthony Shadid Award recognizes ethical decisions in reporting stories in any journalistic medium, including print, broadcast and digital, by those working for established news organizations or publishing individually. It focuses on current journalism and does not include books, documentaries and other long-term projects. Entries must involve reporting for stories published or broadcast in 2017. Individuals or news organizations may nominate themselves or others.

Letters of nomination must include: Name and contact information of the nominators and their relationship to the story; names of the reporter or reporting team that produced the report; brief description of the story and a link to it online; description of conflicting values encountered in reporting the story; options considered to resolve the conflicts; and final decisions and rationales behind them. Nomination letters of three pages or less should be saved in pdf format and attached to an email sent to ethicsaward@journalism.wisc.edu. For more information, visit the website.

The award includes a $1,000 prize and travel expenses to accept the award and discuss the reporting at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on April 5. It differs from most other journalism awards because it honors difficult decisions journalists make in pursuing high-impact stories while fulfilling their ethical obligations to their audience, their sources, and people caught up in news events. “The stories nominated are always phenomenal, but the committee makes the decision on the finalists and winners by considering how reporters and editors negotiated ethical dilemmas while reporting,” said Lucas Graves, chair of the judging committee.

The award is named for Anthony Shadid, a UW-Madison graduate who died in 2012 on a reporting assignment in Syria for The New York Times after winning two Pulitzer Prizes for foreign correspondence. He was a member of the ethics center’s advisory board and strongly supported its efforts to promote public interest journalism and to stimulate discussion about journalism ethics.

December 21, 2017

Cullen family of Iowa’s twice-weekly Storm Lake Times wins Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism

Times photo: John, Mary Tom, Dolores and Art Cullen.
A Northwest Iowa family that has demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity in the face of competition and powerful, entrenched local interests is the winner of the 2017 Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

The Cullen family publishes the Storm Lake Times, a twice-weekly newspaper that has focused attention on water-pollution issues in Iowa, often to the dislike of agribusiness interests that are sources of much of the pollution.

“We’ve lost some friends, we’ve lost subscriptions; for a while, lost some ads,” said Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the paper started by his brother John more than 27 years ago. This year Art Cullen won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, for a series of columns about pollution in the Raccoon River, which supplies water for Iowa’s capital and largest city, Des Moines. He and his son Tom also wrote many news stories about the issue.

Following their reporting, the Des Moines Water Works sued the drainage districts of Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties for failing to stop the pollution. The Times forced the release of public records that showed major agribusiness interests were paying for the suit’s defense. Courts ruled the districts couldn’t be sued, but the suit and the Pulitzer Prize focused more attention on the issue. Art Cullen says “The terms of the debate are changing,” and the amount of farmland in cover crops that prevent pollution has doubled in the past year.

Cullen’s Pulitzer-winning columns had punch. He wrote in March 2016, "Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. It is causing oxygen deprivation in Northwest Iowa glacial lakes. It has caused us to spend millions upon millions trying to clean up Storm Lake, the victim of more than a century of explosive soil erosion."

The Pulitzer committee said the editorials were “fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests.” Much of that reporting was done by Tom Cullen. Art’s wife, Dolores, also reports and takes photographs for the paper, and John’s wife, Mary, writes a recipe column. The family dog, Mabel, is there, too.

The Times began reporting and editorializing about pollution from farms about a year after it was established in June 1990, first looking at concentrated hog-farming operations. It has brought to light other environmental concerns, such as the need to dredge Storm Lake, and issues surrounding the livestock-processing plants that have brought many immigrants to Buena Vista County, in the heart of socially and politically conservative northwest Iowa.

In one of his most recent Editorial Notebooks, Art Cullen wrote, “Many of my ignorant friends conflate people of color with their having lost control of their own destiny; they don’t realize they never had control of it. It’s harder to hate the Chicago Board of Trade than it is a Mexican who doesn’t like American football or can’t speak English. They voted for Barack Obama to take on the Board of Trade and Wall Street. He didn’t,” so they voted for Donald Trump.

“That column is a sterling example of a rural editor speaking hard truths to power and to the people he serves,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute, based at the University of Kentucky. “The Storm Lake Times has long been known to those of us who follow rural journalism as a great example to emulate, and Art Cullen’s Pulitzer Prize merely confirmed that. We hope this award to the Cullen family will show that they have had high ideals and standards for a very long time.”

Cross noted that the paper is a commercial success, with a circulation of 3,000, more than the 1,700 reported by the thrice-weekly Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune, owned by Rust Communications of Cape Girardeau, Mo. “Unlike most weeklies, the Times gets most of its revenue from circulation, with a relatively high $60 annual subscription price,” Cross said. “That is testimony of community support for quality journalism, providing another example to follow.”

The Tom and Pat Gish Award is named for the late couple who published The Mountain Eagle at Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and became nationally known for their battles with coal operators and politicians, and the firebombing of their office by a Whitesburg policeman. Their son, Eagle Editor-Publisher Ben Gish, is on the award selection committee.

“It is encouraging to know that small, family-owned-and-operated community newspapers like the Storm Lake Times and Editor Art Cullen are still here and doing their jobs in very difficult circumstances with the same courage and tenacity exhibited by my parents,” Ben Gish said.

Past winners of the award have been the Gishes; the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Texas) Record; publisher Jim Prince and former publisher Stan Dearman of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler, columnist for The Oregonian, for her work in rural Kentucky and Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin for their newspaper work in Yancey County, N.C.; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in western Kentucky; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M.; and Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Platte City, Mo.

Cross will present the 2017 Gish Award to the Cullen family at the annual convention of the Iowa Newspaper Association in Des Moines on Feb. 2. Nominations for the 2018 Gish Award are being accepted at 122 Grehan Journalism Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042 or via email to al.cross@uky.edu.

November 26, 2017

Call for Reviewers: AEJMC 2018

COMJIG's success in leading the conversation around community/local news and showcasing the best research emerging from scholars in the field every year is reliant on the help of its members who volunteer to review these papers. Thus, following the paper call in the last post, please find below a call for reviewers to sign up to help with reviewing manuscripts submitted to the group. Blind peer review by two to three reviewers is most useful (as we all know) and will not only help the authors--many of whom may be graduate students-- improve their papers for publication but also help improve the quality of research in community/local news.

Therefore, please consider signing up as Reviewer for COMJIG!Those who have submitted papers to COMJIG can sign up to review papers. The more volunteers COMJIG has, the better the quality of reviews as each reviewer will receive fewer papers. We will try our best to ensure that each reviewer receives about two to three papers for review.

If you kindly agree, please let me know via email of your interest in acting as reviewer for the group and include the following details:
1. Graduate Student: yes/no
2. Research Interests: _____________

You can send me a note on monica(dot)chadha(at)asu(dot)edu

I thank you in advance for your help and support for COMJIG!

Call for Papers: AEJMC Conference 2018

As a local/hyperlocal digital news researcher, the line "local newspapers are closing, digital news startups offer the promise of an uncertain but bright future..." or some such variation usually features in my writing. Recent closure of The Gothamist and DNAInfo has heightened the uncertain more than the bright future part. 

Current crises plaguing the industry-- technological advances, lack of revenue, growing mistrust, audience fragmentation and maybe more-- call for more  research in local and community news that not only studies the direction in which local journalism is headed but also maybe help pave this path for community/local newspapers and websites. 

Community Journalism Interest Group provides the perfect platform for submission, discussion and publication of issues and research that concerns and interests both, practitioners and scholars. With this in mind, please find below COMJIG's research paper call for 2018, as part of AEJMC's Uniform Paper Call. 


The Community Journalism Interest Group invites scholarly submissions from faculty and graduate students for paper and poster sessions to be presented at the 2018 AEJMC national conference in Washington D.C. The papers should advance theory and/or practice in community/local journalism and can use a variety of methods and approaches. The deadline for paper submissions is April 1, 2018. 
Scope: The concept of community has expanded to more than just a group defined by physical proximity. In the digital age, communities also are defined by the strength of social relationships amongst individuals and the interests that bring them together, irrespective of their geographic location. COMJIG encourages submissions that address this diversity within and about communities and the role journalism plays in reporting about as well as informing these communities. Research topics may include, but are not restricted to:
  • How and if news organizationsprint and digital-- fulfill a communitys critical information needs
  • How news organizations build audiences within their communities with or without use of technologies such as social media
  • Audience engagement with local/community news
  • How community newspapers thrive or struggle to survive in present times and changes, if any, in community journalistic practices in the digital age
  • How journalism entrepreneurs juggle advertising with community news reporting
  • The effects of the closure of community news outletsprint and online on communities, specifically those in news deserts
  • Conceptual ideas that push the meaning and our understanding of community in new directions
Awards: The Group awards top papers in the faculty and student categories. The authors of these papers will be invited to publish their manuscripts to COMJIGs official, peer-reviewed publication, Community Journalism. Others also are encouraged to send  their work to the journal for consideration.

Submission guidelines:
Format: Paper submissions should include a 100 to 150-word abstract and should not exceed 8000 words, including references, tables and notes. All papers should conform to APA style, Sixth edition. Papers must be typed in 12-point font using Times New Roman and paper text must be double-line spaced with 1-inch margins around each page. The pages should be continuously numbered. Tables or figures can be included within or at the end of the paper. References should An author can submit more than one paper to COMJIG but no more than two manuscripts. All submissions will be subjected to a blind peer review. 
Author Identification: All authors and co-authors should include their information when registering on the online system. It is the authors responsibility to ensure that no identifying information is included anywhere in the paper or the properties section of the pdf document or it will be disqualified from the conference. Thus, authors are encouraged to submit early to fully check their submissions in the system for self-identifying information and any other technical glitches so they can resubmit their manuscripts, if necessary, before the system closes on deadline. Please follow the directions provided in submitting a clean paper section under the uniform paper call on the AEJMC website. 
Student Submissions: Graduate students are encouraged to submit papers to the group. Student authors should clearly mark their papers by including the phrase STUDENT SUBMISSION on the title page to be considered for the student paper competition. These papers should be authored by students only and not include any faculty co-authors.
Uploading Manuscripts: The papers should be submitted to COMJIG via a link on the AEJMC website. Please see the AEJMCs paper competition uniform call for more information.

Presentation Requirement: For the manuscript to be considered for presentation in the panel or poster session at the conference, at least one of the authors must attend in person to talk about the research. An exception may be made for papers with ONLY student authors; if the graduate students are unable to attend, then they must arrange for someone else to present the research on their behalf.

Questions, Concerns, Clarifications? Please contact COMJIG Research Committee Chair Monica Chadha, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, ASU, at monica.chadha(AT)asu(DOT)edu.

I really hope you will consider sharing your research with other like-minded scholars who are interested in the same issues as you through COMJIG! 

October 26, 2017

Family-owned firm, started 3 years ago, is already 6th largest owner of U.S. papers

From The Rural Blog

Adams Publishing Group, a newspaper firm that is barely three years old, has bought more than 100 small dailies, weeklies and shoppers in at least 15 separate transactions," Poynter Institute media-business analyst Rick Edmonds writes for the Iowa Newspaper Association's INA Bulletin. That makes it the nation's sixth-largest owner of newspapers, according to a March 2017 report by Visiting Professor Carol Wolf for the University of North Carolina's Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. About half its papers are in Minnesota, where it is based.

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media map; click on it to enlarge
"In contrast to other big consolidators, they often leave existing management in place, do not impose cookie-cutter content templates, and do not start by stripping down newsrooms of editors and reporters," Edmonds reports.

One example is its purchase of Jones Media, a Greeneville, Tenn.-based chain that was in its fourth generation of family ownership until patriarch John Jones died in 2016 and his descendants forced a sale over the objection of CEO Gregg Jones. He "chose to stay and has nothing but good things to say about the company," Edmonds reports, quoting him: "I'm working harder and enjoying myself more than I ever have. . . . These are the kind of people we want buying newspapers."

CEO Mark Adams rarely speaks
publicly about the firm he runs.
Edmonds couldn't elicit comment from the company, and called it "secretive." The firm is part of a diversified portfolio owned by "billionaire investor Stephen Adams and his family," who "have flown largely under the radar, unknown to those outside the industry," the UNC report says. "The company looks to buy non-metro publications where the newspapers or groups have revenue of about $10 million, said Larry Grimes, of W.B. Grimes & Co., a Gaithersburg, Md.-based mergers-and-acquisitions advisory firm specializing in media properties. Adams Publishing looks for large niche markets and buys within a geographic region. So far, the company has focused primarily on purchasing papers in the Midwest, but it owns publications as far east as the Jersey shore."

October 15, 2017

ISWNE, Huck Boyd Center issue call for applied research on community journalism

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) and the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media at Kansas State University are seeking proposals for papers that provide insight and guidance on general issues and/or everyday problems confronting community newspapers and their newsrooms.

This competition is an extension of the center’s former “Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium,” co-sponsored by the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and its foundation and presented for 20 years at NNA conventions. It is an effort to promote “conversations in community journalism” between academicians and journalists working for community newspapers.

Proposals will be peer-reviewed by faculty with expertise in community journalism and final selection of the papers to be written will be made by a panel of working and retired community journalists who will evaluate the proposals on the basis of their potential value to newsrooms. Completed papers will undergo a final peer review prior to publication in an issue of ISWNE’s quarterly journal Grassroots Editor.

One paper will be selected for presentation at the 2019 ISWNE conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The ISWNE Foundation will provide the author with complimentary registration for that conference, as well as a partial subsidy for travel. Proposals from graduate students are encouraged.

The deadline for proposals is Jan. 19, 2018. The full call for proposals and instructions for authors can be found here

September 20, 2017

Call for Panel Proposals, 2018 AEJMC Conference in Washington, D.C.

The Community Journalism interest group is now accepting panel proposals for the 2018 AEJMC conference in Washington, D.C.

There are three types of panel proposals you can submit: Professional Freedom & Responsibility (PF&R), Teaching and Research. All division members must submit their panel proposals by Oct. 1 to richjohnson@creighton.edu. Use the panel proposal template below a guide for writing your proposal.

Tips for preparing a panel proposal:

- Ideally, panels will be joint submissions with another AEJMC division or interest group. Therefore, you might try to develop a joint proposal with someone from another division/interest group. You are not required to develop a joint proposal - we can help you find someone from another division who might be willing to assist with your proposal.

- Joint panels should include members representing both divisions/interest groups submitting. For example, if COMJ is the lead sponsor on the panel, include three COMJ members and two members from the other division/interest group. Having a panel consisting entirely of COMJ members will not disqualify you from having your panel accepted, but we will give preference to joint submissions.

- Suggest important findings that attendees may take from your panel. For example, will the panel help attendees integrate aspects of community journalism into their classrooms? Will the panel help them understand research on theories of group identity? Try to explain the impact your panel will have on the division as well as AEJMC as a whole.

We will notify you in December if your panel proposal was accepted. Please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to reach out at any time if you have questions about programming for next year's conference. 

2018 AEJMC Conference Panel Proposal

Panel Title:

Panel Type: (Research, Teaching, or PF&R)

Panel Sponsorship: Community Journalism Interest Group (also, please list possible co-sponsors)

Description of Panel: Generally 150-250 words. Remember to discuss potential impact of the panel on COMJ and AEJMC’s broader membership.

Possible Panelists:
List up to five, including affiliation and contact information. Please indicate whether you have already contacted prospective panelists about participating.


Your name, affiliation, daytime phone and email address

August 15, 2017

Arenberg, Lowrey, Speakman receive COMJIG top paper honors at AEJMC

Members of the Community Journalism Interest Group were involved in several outstanding panels at last week’s AEJMC conference. We were also treated to some fantastic research and had a fruitful business meeting.

Two of the highlights of our conference programming were the presentation of our Top Faculty and Top Student papers. Tom Arenberg and Wilson Lowrey of the University of Alabama received the Top Faculty Paper award for their study entitled “The Impact of Web Metrics on Community News Decisions: A Resource Dependence Perspective.” From the study abstract:

This comparative case study of two community news organizations takes a Resource Dependence approach to assess impact of audience metrics on news decisions, and on mechanisms underlying these decisions. Findings show that the organization that more strongly emphasizes metrics publishes fewer in-depth civic-issue stories, and metrics are more likely to influence newsworthiness. However, reporters’ expertise with strategies for increasing numbers may actually free reporters for enterprise work. Findings also suggest effects from community size.

(From left) Outgoing COMJIG Head Marcus Funk and COMJIG Research Chair Rich Johnson present the Top Faculty Paper Award to Wilson Lowrey and Tom Arenberg.

Burton Speakman of Ohio University received the Top Student Paper award for his study entitled “Technology and the Public: The Influence of Website Features on the Submission of UGC.” From the study abstract:

Web 2.0 creates a situation where the Internet increasingly focuses on submissions of content from non-professionals and interaction between the masses as a method of creating dedicated audiences. Community newspapers work within this rapidly changing media market and one must follow their audience online, despite any reservations about if the web provides a hospitable economic environment. This study examines how community newspaper websites choose to engage in gatekeeping as it relates to UGC. Despite changes in technology gatekeeping continues to occur on community newspaper websites. Furthermore, it provides clarity about what type of audience submitted content is more likely published at community media.

Burton Speakman (center) receives the Top Student Paper Award from COMJIG Research Chair Rich Johnson (left) and outgoing COMJIG Head Marcus Funk.

Abstracts for other research papers presented at COMJIG panels can be found here.