September 14, 2023

COMJIG AEJMC 2024 Call for Panels


COMJIG is looking for panel interest for our interest group's conference agenda at AEJMC 2024 next August in Philadelphia. Think of subjects that pique your interest, pressing issues you think are deserving of heightened consideration and/or concepts that spark your enthusiasm. As an interest group, our aim is to include and advocate for a wide array of distinct voices in our conference agenda. We can also partner with other divisions and interest groups for panel topics/explorations. 

Here's a template to guide you through pitching panels: 

  • Panel Title: Give your idea a creative name — this can be a draft name, so have fun.

  • Panel Type:  

    • If your panel idea is more academic in nature, pick Research.  

    • If it’s more about involving students or revolves around pedagogical practice, pick Teaching.  

    • If it’s about freedom of speech, the journalism profession, or ethical issues, then pick PF&R (i.e. professional freedom and responsibilities).

  • Panel Sponsorship: If you think there is another AEJMC division or interest group that might be interested in collaborating with COMJIG for the idea you have suggested, please list them. Consider which groups might compliment the idea of what will be talked about during the panel you’re proposing. We will follow up with the division or group you suggest when finalizing the panel proposals. 

  • Description of Panel: In 150-250 words, describe what this panel is about and the discussion points you would like covered. Consider that we’ll use this description to help attract other divisions or interest groups.  

  • Possible Panelists: Consider an array of diverse people and perspectives when pitching who you think would be good to invite. You don’t need to have your panelists locked down yet, you can treat this as who’d you like if the panel is accepted.  

  • Moderator: You can recommend someone else or yourself for moderating the panel, should you intend to attend AEJMC in Philadelphia next year.

  • Contact: Provide the best way for me to get in touch with you should I need additional information or clarification for the panel you have proposed. 

Please provide the information outlined in a Word Document and email it to COMJIG Vice Head Dr. Nick Mathews at by Oct. 1.

September 01, 2023

Report takes deep look at university statehouse reporting projects

The decline in statehouse reporting across the US has been well- documented. It's also been documented how damaging this is to public knowledge since it can be argued that what hapoens at state legislatures has far more impact on people than what happens in Congress or at City Hall.

University journalism journalism programs have in some cases stepped in to fill the gap. The University of Vermont's Center for Community News now counts about 20 such programs.

The center has put out a report taking a deep look at such programs. It's worth downloading.

Helping faculty build community and statehouse news partnerships

 There are a couple of interesting community journalism conferences this month

One focuses on university-sponsored news operations covering statehouses Sept. 28-30 at Missouri.

The other (Sept. 8 online) is aimed at improving the faculty resources page put out by the University of Vermont's Center for Community News. You can find the page here.

April 27, 2023

Rural Journalism Summit

 The third National Summit on Journalism in Rural America will be held Friday, July 7, at the Campbell House hotel on US 68 in Lexington, KY.

Al Cross at the University of Kentucky is soliciting programming ideas

October 03, 2022

ComJIG AEJMC 2023 Call for Panels

The Community Journalism Interest Group needs your help brainstorming and planning panels for COMJIG for AEJMC 2023 in Washington, D.C. We want our conference programming to be about, and relevant to, you and your experiences. With that in mind, think about the topics that interest you, the concerns you would like discussed at a national level, and ideas that have emerged in your research, classrooms, or have excited you or your students. There are several looming issues facing community journalism right now and, as an interest group, we want to include and represent as many unique voices as possible in our conference programming. 

Interested in submitting a panel? Here's an overview of what we're looking for:

  • Panel Title: Give your idea a creative name – this can be a draft name. 
  • Panel Type: 
    • If your panel idea is more academic in nature, pick Research. 
    • If it's more about involving students or revolves around pedagogical practice, pick Teaching. 
    • If it's about freedom of speech, the journalism profession, or ethical issues, then PF&R (Professional Freedom and Responsibilities) 
  • Panel Sponsorship: If you think there is another AEJMC division or interest group that might be interested in collaborating with COMJIG for the idea you have suggested, please list them. Consider which groups might compliment the idea of what will be talked about during the panel you’re proposing. We will follow up with the division or group you suggest when finalizing the panel proposals. 
  • Description of Panel: In 150-250 words, describe what this panel is about and the discussion points you would like covered. Consider that we’ll use this description to help attract other divisions or interest groups. 
  • Possible Panelists: Consider an array of diverse people and perspectives when pitching who you think would be good to invite. You don’t need to have your panelists locked down yet, you can treat this as who’d you like if the panel is accepted. 
  • Moderator: You can recommend someone else or yourself for moderating the panel, should you intend to attend AEJMC next year. 
  • Contact: Provide the best way for us to get in touch with you should we need additional information or clarification for the panel you have proposed. Please provide the information outlined in a Word document and email it to Aaron Atkins at by Wednesday, Oct. 12. 

September 23, 2022

Panel call, AEJMC 2023 meeting - Oct. 7 deadline

 COMJIG members, note. Please contact COMJIG vice chair Aaron Atkins ( with your ideas.

Deadline: Submission of all panel proposals to DIG leaders – Oct. 7

Note: These instructions only refer to panels. Pre-conference Workshops (Sessions) will be handled separately.

· The deadline for submission to your DIG (division or interest group) is Oct. 7. This deadline is shared for all AEJMC DIGs and cannot be extended by DIG leaders, so there is equity across the Association. We will actively promote this deadline on AEJMC’s social platforms.

· What should be included in the panel proposal call?

o Short overview of your DIG’s focus, prior panel topics and what topics you’d like to see this year

o List of proposal requirements

§ Title for the proposed panel

§ Narrative description of the proposed panel (DIGs can set the length/parameters)

§ Rationale for why the proposed panel fits with your DIG’s audience

§ Names of suggested panelists, with institutional/professional affiliations and contact information

· In creating suggestions for panelists, incorporate diverse voices, paying attention to the race and gender of presenters. In addition, think about the types of schools represented on your proposed panel and the position/rank of presenters. Would the panel be strengthened by adding a graduate student, a term (non-tenure track) professor or a colleague who has expertise on the topic but doesn’t normally attend AEJMC? Drawing on a wide range of sources helps produce innovative and inclusive panels that share new ideas.

· Also, remember that the conference is being planned (again) as an in-person gathering in Washington, D.C. – so if you are including industry or professional experts, those who live in the city or nearby might be good choices.

· Members should indicate whether or not they have contacted potential panelists about their willingness to participate, provided the panel is successfully programmed into the conference.

o Instructions on how members can submit panel ideas, along with contact information for your vice chair (email)

o Description of how your panels will be reviewed by DIG leadership

· What should I keep in mind while corresponding with my DIG’s members about panels?

o Once you collect proposals from your members (by Oct. 7), you will then select the best ideas that you’d like to see make it on the program. Later in October, you will make “deals” or partnerships with other DIGs on your programming.

§ Because of the deal-making structure, panels are not guaranteed a place on the program until the deal-making has concluded and the schedule has been formalized (in late winter) with the Central Office.

§ Once a deal has been made, DIG leaders will work together to verify that the panel has equitable representation (roughly equal numbers of panelists) from both DIGs that made the deal.

· When populating panels, try to avoid repetition of DIG members on more than one panel.

September 07, 2022

Science Training for Local Journalists

On Sept. 15, SciLine, part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will have a free, one-hour online session of "Crash Course:  Science essentials for local reporters."


SciLine is an excellent source to bookmark. In addition to training and topical articles, it has a referral service to help journalists locate topic experts on deadline.

August 23, 2022

Arkansas and her weekly win Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism

An Arkansas publisher and her weekly newspaper, which revealed school officials’ cover-up of sexual-abuse allegations by students in the face of court challenges and harsh criticism by the officials, are the winners of the 2022 Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

Publisher Ellen Kreth
Ellen Kreth and the Madison County Record have long been standouts in Arkansas journalism, and leaders in the battle for freedom of information in the state. Their FOI experiences served them well in their battle with the Huntsville School District, which tried to conceal sexual abuse by members of the Huntsville High School Junior High boys’ basketball team against some of their teammates over two basketball seasons.

The Record learned of the case from parents of the victims, who approached the newspaper to make sure the allegations weren’t swept under the rug and school officials were held accountable. The paper didn’t name any students involved, but did report that the school board reduced or rejected the recommended punishment for the violators. It focused on how officials handled the allegations. It reported the district’s failure to immediately report the allegations, as required by law, and multiple open-meetings violations of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

The newspaper’s reporting prompted an investigation by the county sheriff; special open-meetings training for the school board, which didn’t do it in the time required; a lawsuit by a parent alleging violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which ban sex-based discrimination in any school that gets federal funding; the board’s admission of liability in that suit; and the electoral defeat in May of three of the four board members who sought re-election.

Madison County (Wikipedia map)
The Record also reported that on election night, five days after the board granted the school superintendent’s request to become director of compliance and personnel, the sheriff’s office found her hidden under a bridge with the unopposed board member in his truck, claiming to be “star-gazing” on the stormy night.

“The school district fought us each step, publicly criticizing our editorial decisions and the credibility of our reporting,” Kreth told the Institute for Rural Journalism. “The school board claimed ignorance for never having previously handled a Title IX investigation. It failed to provide notice of meetings, claiming a newspaper should not cover student discipline. Based upon our reporting, a parent sued the district for the open-meetings violations and won.” The district asked for a gag order, and the paper hired legal counsel to intervene in the case on that issue and won. That allowed parties to the case, “including victims, to continue to speak to us, helping ensure accuracy in every article,” Kreth wrote.

Gen. Mgr. Shannon Hahn
The newspaper's work, which is at, was done by Kreth, General Manager Shannon Hahn and Celia Kreth, the publisher’s younger daughter, now a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Ellen Kreth said the 4,000-circulation paper with a staff of five turned down help from larger news organizations because they had promised anonymity to several victims and families and wanted to ensure the confidentiality was maintained.

Kreth started out as a journalist and became a lawyer, but got back into journalism in 2002 when she inherited the newspaper from her grandmother. She said that her knowledge of freedom-of-information law prevented officials and their lawyers from intimidating her, and that the paper’s use of the laws has made readers more aware of them, to the point that they come in asking how to file an open-records request.

Reporter Celia Kreth
“At a time when newspapers need to remind the public of their value to local democracy, as independent watchdogs of local officials, Ellen Kreth and the Madison County Record are an example to the nation,” said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and extension professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky.

The Tom and Pat Gish Award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., weekly for more than 50 years and repeatedly demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity through advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office by a local policeman who state police believe was paid by coal companies.

Author and journalist Bill Bishop of LaGrange, Texas, who worked for the Gishes and is a member of the award selection committee, said of the winners’ work, “I can't imagine a harder issue to pursue in a community. And the open-records fight is straight out of early Tom and Pat.”

The Gishes, who died in 2008 and 2014, respectively, were the first winners of the award, in 2005. The other winners, in chronological order, have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Texas) Record; Stanley Dearman (former publisher, now deceased) and Jim Prince (publisher), The Neshoba Democrat, Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler of Portland, Oregon, for her work at the Jacksonville (Texas) Daily Progress and the daily Times-Tribune of Corbin, Ky.; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin, publishers of the now-defunct Yancey County News in Burnsville, N.C.; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Calhoun, Ky.; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M.; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Platte City, Mo.; the Cullen family of the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times; Les Zaitz of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon; Ken Ward Jr., then of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and now of Mountain State Spotlight, along with his mentor, the late Paul J. Nyden of the Charleston Gazette and Howard Berkes of NPR; the late Tim Crews, editor-publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, Calif.; and the Thompson-High family of The News Reporter in Whiteville, N.C.

The Gish Award will be presented Nov. 3 at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner at the Embassy Suites Lexington on Newtown Pike near Interstate 64/75. The keynote speaker will be Renee Shaw, public-affairs director for Kentucky Educational Television.

The annual dinner also honors recipients of the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians, which the institute presents with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The 2022 winners of the Smith Award are Chris Evans and Allison Mick-Evans of The Crittenden Press, a small weekly in West Kentucky that has punched above its weight and persevered for almost 30 years in the face of increasing challenges, most recently a city water crisis in which it has been an information lifeline.

Dinner tickets for non-SPJ members are $125 each; table sponsorships are $1,250. For more information, contact Al Cross at

June 10, 2022

University help for community journalism among topics at weekly editors' conference in Kentucky June 20-23

By Al Cross
Director and professor, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky

Editorial critique session at an ISWNE conference
The annual conference of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, July 20-23 at the University of Kentucky, will have programs on university help for community newspapers, national politics becoming local, dealing with the evils of social media, new business models for weeklies, governments’ role in the news business, a visit from a news-media leader from Mongolia, newspapers’ and libraries’ common interests, and the hallmark of the conference: editors' critiques of other members' editorials and editorial pages.

Those sessions are on the schedule for Friday and Saturday, July 22 and 23. As usual, the professional-development programming will be preceded by two days of tours in the area; the itinerary includes a historic newspaper, an iconic horse farm, a bourbon distillery, and a community that is headquarters to a big cannabis company and for 14 years was home to a newspaper created by UK students and their professor (this writer). For a detailed schedule, click here.

Attendees will stay in a university dormitory, and private rooms are available. The conference fee is $600 per person, and there's a three-day, $300 option. ISWNE membership is $50 a year. The registration form is here. The deadline is Wednesday, June 15. Questions? Email

Friday’s opening session will examine the common interests of newspapers and public libraries. “Libraries and newspapers share the front lines in the battle for intellectual freedom,” says AnnaMarie Cornett, chief of staff at the Lexington Public Library, who will join with other leaders of the library to talk about their approaches to neutrality and challenged materials, and how libraries and newspapers can work together in the fight against censorship.

Next up will be a session on navigating the increasingly contentious political landscape. My informal survey of ISWNE members last year found that editors are becoming more cautious because the national divisiveness has made local public discourse more contentious, and I have heard likewise from other editors. I’ll present what I have heard, then lead a group discussion so we can learn more and help guide paths forward.

Allison Frisch of Ithaca College and Gina Gayle of Emerson College will discuss their research paper about the ways higher-education journalism programs can help community newspapers. They found that such partnerships can increase civic engagement, create new local media channels, and strengthen civic literacy, engagement, and democracy. They also can give students real-world experience covering a wide range of issues, and help newspapers in need of more resources.

After lunch and ISWNE's annual Associated Press Stylebook quiz, we will have a discussion with Bradley Martin, editor and publisher of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., about dealing with the evils of social media, and when it’s necessary to dip into the cesspool. Brad has an object example of a social media mess that had a serious impact on a school, a student and his family. I’ll be you have some examples to discuss, too.

Should government help the news media, and if so, how? Canada has taken steps to help newspapers that would be off-limits in the U.S., where the newspaper industry is fighting battles in Congress and state legislatures. Gordon Cameron, group managing editor of Hamilton Community News in Ontario, will give a report from Canada, where government help hasn’t set well with some rural editors. I will discuss battles in the states over public-notice advertising, and efforts in Congress to help news media recover some of the revenue they have lost to digital platforms – efforts that are better suited to community papers than they were at the start, but U.S. editors and publishers are still debating what role government should play in sustaining local journalism. I’ll also discuss newspapers’ biggest victory in Congress lately, the great expansion of the ability to send sample copies to non-subscribers in their home counties.

What are the ethics of seeking public-notice ads and other support for local journalism from public officials whom you may have to cover and comment on? That will be the point of departure for a roundtable session about tough ethical calls, often a challenge in rural communities.

To wrap up Friday's discussions, we will have a session looking at new business models for community newspapers, drawing in part on our recent National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, where speakers talked about taking their newspapers into nonprofit status, working with a local community foundation to put philanthropy into their business model, and using e-newsletters and membership models to raise more revenue from readers. (For another Summit story, on the state of rural journalism, click here.)

On Saturday, after the editorial critiques, we plan to hear from a very special visitor: Enkhbat Tsend, chairman of the Press Institute of Mongolia and CEO of Control Media LLC. Mongolia ranks 90th on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, but that is higher than most nations near it. The index says Mongolia “broadly respects the principles of freedom and media pluralism, though its regulation still lacks basic legal protection for the confidentiality of sources and imperfect defamation laws encourage abusive lawsuits against journalists, stirring self-censorship.”

So, the conference will reach from your campus to your county courthouse and city hall to state legislatures and Congress and to other nations, just as an ISWNE conference should do. Please join us.

June 09, 2022

Some university professors and journalism programs are helping rural newspapers; one says they are way overdue

One in a series of reports on the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America, held June 3-4 by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the College of Communication and Information at the University of Kentucky. Summit sessions can be viewed on YouTube.

As more higher-education journalism programs try to serve community journalism, one professor who started a newspaper with her students, is doing hands-on research and testing a new business model at two weekly papers says it's way overdue.

Teri Finneman
The state of journalism and the news business "is a colossal failure of higher education," Teri Finneman, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, said at the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America Saturday afternoon.

"Where the hell has the ivory tower been the last 20 years?" Finneman asked. "We are the ones who should have been leading the research, working with the industry, to avoid this mess that we are in right now. . . . It is time for the ivory tower to step up and support our counterparts in the industry."

Finneman is a researcher of journalism history, but she has launched into doing journalism with her students, as publisher of the Eudora Times in a small town nine miles from her journalism school, which will host "News Desert U." Oct 21-22 for journalism educators to address the crisis. "It is time for universities to step up, finally, and do something about this," she said.

This summer, Finneman is testing a new business model for community papers at Harvey County Now in Newton, Kan., and the Hillsboro Free Press, which will get $10,000 to participate. The model aims to get more revenue from the audience with e-newsletters, events and two tiers of memberships. Kansas Publishing Ventures, which owns the papers, is keeping detailed minutes of its weekly meetings on the project, to help develop an information packet for community papers across the nation, Finneman said.

The model is based on surveys that Finneman and other researches did in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, which found that newspaper readers are much more willing to support their papers with money beyond subscriptions that newspaper publishers think they are. In North Dakota, the only state where she has released her results, 40 percent said they were likely or very likely to donate.

Finneman said she and her colleagues were "taken aback" at the attitude of publishers in focus groups who felt that asking for voluntary support would be admitting failure or showing personal weakness. "They very much saw themselves as a business, as opposed to an unreplaceable civic community organization that a newspaper is," while "leaving free money on the table."

She said publishers cited the lack of time and resources for business-model experimentation, but "Overall, there was very much this underlying fear, the fear of doing something different."

M. Clay Carey
In a session on what sort of research journalism schools could do to help rural news outlets, Clay Carey of Samford University in Alabama said research projects need to have social value, not just economic and journalistic value. "We all know the future of rural news outlets is tied to the future of rural places," he said, so "stories of places that are struggling" could he helpful.

The summit's "research question" was "How can rural communities sustain local journalism that supports local democracy?" Carey said we need research that is centered on the idea of democratic practice, and the essential role of agency: the ability to act on information. He said research has focused on information at the expense of focus on agency, which many people feel they don't have, and suggested more specific research questions" How can journalistic organizations equip people to be civically engaged? How can they encourage and empower them? Perhaps by "inviting people to participate in sharing their story," he said.

More broadly, he said universities should ask, "How can news organizations facilitate collaboration that creates a sense of community and creates positive change?" and think about facilitating collaboration among local newspapers, national and regional organizations, and local entities such as libraries. He said universities can help create frameworks, and reduce risk and risk aversion. And all the while, do research that is "accessible to people outside the academy. . . . It's easy for research to be an extractive industry, in the same way that journalism can be an extractive industry."

Bill Reader
Bill Reader of Ohio University, a longtime community journalism scholar, said "The academy has not been a friend of the cause, overall," but "Industry leaders have ignored the research of the past, and they are ignoring the research of the present." He said research needs to take on the knowledge gap between "haves and have-nots" in rural communities. "Helping people become full-fledged members of the community builds support for the newspaper, long-haul."

Beyond research, some university journalism programs are trying to help individual papers and the industry at large. University of Georgia students staff The Oglethorpe Echo, a nearby paper that was going to close until retired chain publisher Dink NeSmith created a nonprofit and got the university involved (he described the process in the first Saturday afternoon session); and West Virginia University has the NewStart program to train the next generation of community newspaper owners. Its director, Jim Iovino, reported that the University of Texas is sending someone to see how it can emulate the effort. In both states, newspaper associations asked universities for help because newspaper owners could not find acceptable buyers for their papers.

Further reports on the National Summit on Journalism in Rural America will appear later on The Rural Blog. Previous articles were on the state of rural journalism the Summit-driven effort for sustainability in rural journalism and nonprofit models.

June 02, 2022

National Summit on Journalism in Rural America This Week

The National Summit on Journalism in Rural America is this Friday and Saturday (June 3-4).

It will be livestreamed. Details at

Friday, June 3 | 1:15-5 p.m. 
  • The state of America’s community newspapers and their journalism
  • Reports from leaders of the community newspaper industry
  • Putting local philanthropy in your business model
  • Converting your newspaper(s) to nonprofit status
Saturday, June 4 | Starting at 9 a.m. 

  • Good journalism is good business, but how do we make people want local news? 
  • How two community newspapers are adapting to change
  • Innovation at other community newspapers
  • National funders and supporters on help for rural journalism
  • A university-nonprofit team saves a weekly paper
  • New business models for community newspapers, and a plan to test one
  •  What other research is needed to help community journalism? 

May 25, 2022

Using census data, a goldmine fior community journalists

 Census data has a wealth of potential stories for community journalists. And with the onlinevtools, it's one of the easiest data sources to use.

Here are some tips on how to dig in.

May 19, 2022

Mapping tool for small newsrooms

 From the Reynolds Journalism Institute, details of mapping tool Flourish, which may be especially useful for small newsrooms.

February 28, 2022

Local news: Some sobering statistics

 CJR looks at the shrinkage in local newsrooms not just from the view of simply percentage decline in overall numbers but in light of some other interesting comparisons.

February 21, 2022

Gen Z and news

 Some interesting insights into Gen Z and how they want their news.

February 18, 2022

AEJMC 2022: Community Journalism Paper Call (Deadline April 1)

The Community Journalism Interest Group (ComJIG) invites scholarly submissions from faculty and graduate students for its competitive paper and poster sessions to be presented at the 2022 AEJMC national conference in Detroit, Michigan, USA.

In addition to the Top Faculty ($100 and plaque) and Top Graduate Student ($150 and plaque) paper awards, ComJIG has a special call and $150/plaque prize for the top graduate student paper with a niche focus on social justice in context of community journalism. All papers should apply or advance theory and/or professional practice in community/local journalism and can use a variety of methods and approaches. All papers up for the graduate student awards cannot be co-authored by a faculty member – indicate in your submission if you want to be considered for it. The deadline for paper submissions is April 1, 2022.

The Scope: Community journalism is in the midst of a paradigm shift in both research and practice. New technologies, an increase in the digital divide, the ongoing shift from print to digital, the encroachment of a global community on local reporting, and the increasing distrust of mainstream news outlets and its effects on audience perceptions of hyperlocal news, to name a few, represent a moving target for community reporting.

The concept of community has also expanded to include well more than just a group defined by characteristics of physical proximity. In the digital age, communities also are defined by the strength of social relationships among individuals based largely on the interests, beliefs, and ideologies that bring them together, irrespective of their geographic location. ComJIG encourages submissions that address these issues as well as this diversity within and about communities in whatever forms they take. It also encourages submissions on the role(s) journalism plays in reporting as well as informing these communities. In addition, it encourages submissions that provide action-oriented insight into effects, trends, and issues facing community journalism outlets that would be of use to industry practitioners. We also encourage research that looks at community journalism (or even community itself) within a broad ideology.

Research topics may include, but are not restricted to:

· Social justice at the community level – coverage, influence, responsibility, etc.

· How and if news organizations—print and digital-- fulfill a community’s critical information needs

· How news organizations build audiences within their communities with or without use of digital technologies

· 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 outlets—print and online – on communities, specifically those in news deserts or in relation to the digital divide

· How news organizations create and engage with communities through innovative practices

· Conceptual ideas that push our understanding of community in new directions

· Conceptual ideas that explore the meaning and interpretation of “local news” in a global era

The Awards: ComJIG awards top papers in the faculty and grad student categories. The authors of these papers will be invited to publish their manuscripts to ComJIG’s official, peer-reviewed publication, Community Journalism. Others also are encouraged to send their work to the journal for consideration. In addition, and new this year, an award will be given to the top graduate student paper focused on this year’s niche call – social justice and community reporting.

The 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. References must be provided. Tables or figures can be included within or at the end of the paper. 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 author’s 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 AEJMC’s 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 Aaron Atkins, assistant professor of communication, digital media, and journalism at Weber State University,

December 02, 2021

AEJMC SE Colloquium Deadline Dec 18

 A reminder that the paper submission deadline for the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium is just a few days away.

October 20, 2021

Akron's Devil Strip local news co-op shuts down unexpectedly

It's unclear how a news co-op could shut down suddenly and unilaterally.

But the sudden demise of Akron's Devil Strip may be an important learning moment as the push to find new community news business models continues.

October 18, 2021

Call for Contributors: Issues Facing Contemporary American Journalism: History, Context, and Perspectives

There is currently a call for book chapters and essays for the upcoming book Issues Facing Contemporary American Journalism: History, Context, and Perspectives, in development with Routledge in the Journalism Insights series with an anticipated publication in 2023. 

From primary author and editor Dr. Hans Schmidt, here's the call information: 

Call for Book Chapters and Essays: Issues Facing Contemporary American Journalism: History, Context, and Perspectives


Proposal Submission Deadline: December 1, 2021 (early submissions appreciated)

Chapters Due: May 1, 2022


I am inviting chapter and essay proposals for the book Issues Facing Contemporary American Journalism: History, Context, and Perspectives being developed for publication by Routledge in the Journalism Insights book series (early 2023 publication anticipated).


Contributions could take two forms.


Chapter Submissions: Chapter submissions would address a historical background of the chapter topic, as well as historical and contemporary issues, challenge, and context related to this topic. Completed chapters should be 3500-4500 words in length.


Essay Submissions: Essay submissions would address tangential perspectives, first-person experiences, or topics related to each primary chapter. Completed essays should be 1200-2000 words in length.


Chapters topics include, but are not limited to, the following.


 A Free Press: A Confusing History and Uncertain Future (U.S. focus)

 A Free Press: A Confusing History and Uncertain Future (International focus)

 Journalistic Objectivity: A Gold Standard or Myth?

 The Challenge of War and Conflict Reporting

 Reporting on Terrorism and the War on Terror

 The Challenges of Pandemic Reporting in an Era of Hyperpartisanship

 Environmental Reporting and the Problem of Mis(Dis)information

 The Return of Fake News

 Local News in Crisis

 Can Journalism Survive Social Media?

 Enduring Inequities in Journalism: Gender in Sports and News

 Covering Activist Athletes

 Reporting on Social Justice Movements

 Reporting on Crime and Criminal Justice: Challenges and Biases

 Citizen Journalism: A New Approach?

 Moving Forward: Directions for a Sustainable Model for Journalism


Chapter/essay proposals should include:

(1) Author credentials

(2) Identify if proposal is for a chapter (3500-4500 words) or supplementary essay (1200-2000 words)

(3) Topic (Please select a topic from the list above, or propose another topic.)

(4) A 200-300 word (approximately) description of what you plan to develop in either the chapter or essay.


For more information, or to submit a chapter or essay proposal, please email the primary author and editor, Dr. Hans Schmidt ( The deadline for chapter and essay proposals is December 1, 2021. Early proposals are appreciated and will be reviewed as soon as they are received. The deadline for chapter and essay submissions is May 1, 2022.

October 17, 2021

Survival of local news: The view from on the ground

The latest from the Post and Courier's excellent "Uncovered" series documenting how corruption flourishes when local news withers. This is an on-the-ground look at the perilous situation in Union, SC, known nationally for the Susan Smith child drowning case.

The once-daily folded, a victim of economic pressures that became too intense with coronavirus, and now two former employees who started a competing weekly wonder how it will survive.

(Warning: possible paywall.)

The story also references Newstart, a program at the University of West Virginia to encourage people to buy local papers and train them how to run them.

October 13, 2021

Missouri publishers return papers to local ownership as Gannett sheds titles

Gannett is shedding newspapers across the country after its merger with GateHouse Media. It has shed 12 in Missouri, and local publishers are returning them to local ownership.

One of them is Trevor Vernon, owner of Vernon Communicatons:

The Lake Sun-Leader, which also publishes magazines and specialty publications about recreation and real estate at the Lake of the Ozarks, will operate with three reporters and an editor, Vernon said.

That means he’s hiring.

While Vernon is not looking to add to his chain, he said he would like to see more community newspapers returned to local ownership.

“I hope it is a national trend,” he said. “I believe that Gannett has done the same thing in Kansas. I really believe there is a need for local journalists to do local journalism.

 From the Missouri Independent:

ISWNE/Huck Boyd Competition Call for Proposals

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) is looking for paper proposals for its ISWNE/Huck Boyd Competition. Proposals should provide insight and guidance on issues and/or everyday problems within community newspapers, particularly at publications with less than 10,000 circulation. 

Here's a link to more information, including a PDF download of the competition submission requirements. Deadline to submit is Nov. 2. The ISWNE conference is July 20-24, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky. 

October 09, 2021

Build reader engagement with current resources -- RJI

 Reynolds Journalism Institute has a "how we do it" piece from fellow Kate Abbey-Lambetz detailing how Detour Detroit gets reader engagement.

"[W]e also have focused on engagement as an ongoing, mission-driven practice that touches all parts of our newsroom and drives our journalism." ...

"Cultivating a meaningful engagement practice (including, but beyond, social media) can feel like a tall order for a small outlet stretched for resources and time. But it can pay its own dividends, helping you better understand and meet readers’ needs; produce more impactful journalism; grow your audience, and increase reader loyalty and support. With a small team and no dedicated engagement staffer, no paid tools and an online-only presence, here’s how we do it."

Helping smaller newsrooms meet photo and video needs

 From Reynolds Fellow Aaron Eaton:

Over the next month, I would love to speak with as many smaller local newsrooms as possible to gain more insight into how to build a platform that can serve their needs in regards to:

  • Locating local  independent visual journalists for assignments.
  • Creating a streamlined process to pay for and acquire photo and video content from local journalists.
  • Building a community of smaller newsrooms to strengthen local journalism.

October 08, 2021

When a newspaper chain lets a community's small daily newspaper deteriorate

From The Rural Blog

All across America, small newspapers are shriveling, mainly because digital media have taken much of their advertising base. Quantifying that on a national scale would be very difficult; the U.S. has more than 6,000 newspapers, most of them small. But a story about one, The Hawk Eye of Burlington, Iowa, is emblematic of the problem, which is worst for small daily papers bearing a burden of debt incurred by hedge-fund buyers like GateHouse Media, which took over Gannett Co. and its name.

Elaine Godfrey, who grew up near the Mississippi River town of 24,000, writes for The Atlantic about The Hawk Eye under the new Gannett: "Its staff, now down to three overstretched news reporters, still produces a print edition six days a week. But the paper is dying. Its pages are smaller than they used to be, and there are fewer of them. Even so, wide margins and large fonts are used to fill space. The paper is laid out by a remote design team and printed 100 miles away in Peoria, Illinois; if a reader doesn’t get her paper in the morning, she is instructed to dial a number that will connect her to a call center in the Philippines. Obituaries used to be free; now, when your uncle dies, you have to pay to publish a write-up. These days, most of The Hawk Eye’s articles are ripped from other Gannett-owned Iowa publications, such as The Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune, written for a readership three hours away. The opinion section, once an arena for local columnists and letter writers to spar over the merits and morals of riverboat gambling and railroad jobs moving to Topeka, is dominated by syndicated national columnists."

Using the recently created Burlington Breaking News Facebook page to solicit comments, Godfrey got dozens: "Readers noticed the paper’s sloppiness first—how there seemed to be twice as many typos as before, and how sometimes the articles would end mid-sentence instead of continuing after the jump. The newspaper’s remaining reporters are overworked; there are local stories they’d like to tell but don’t have the bandwidth to cover. The Hawk Eye’s current staff is facing the impossible task of keeping a historic newspaper alive while its owner is attempting to squeeze it dry."

Social-media sites that pop up when a newspaper withers "can be a useful resource, and a good source of community jokes and gossip. But speculation and rumor run rampant" on the Facebook page, Godfrey writes. "When a member hears something that sounds like gunshots nearby, she’ll post about it, and others will offer theories about the source. Once, I read a thread about an elementary-school principal suddenly skipping town. Some thought he might have behaved inappropriately with a student; one person said he’d been involved with a student’s mother; another swore they’d seen security-camera footage of the principal slashing tires in a parking lot at night. I checked The Hawk Eye and other outlets, but I couldn’t find verification of any of those stories."

The guessing is hard for Dale Alison, former Hawk Eye editor, to watch. "He often interjects in the comments to correct false information. Sometimes he posts news himself. . . .  People want to know what’s going on, Alison told me; they just don’t know how to find the answer, whom to call, where to look. That’s what reporters are for."

Godfrey touches on another national trend seen all over the country: "In the absence of local coverage, all news becomes national news: Instead of reading about local policy decisions, people read about the blacklisting of Dr. Seuss books. Instead of learning about their own local candidates, they consume angry takes about Marjorie Taylor Greene," the radical Republican congresswoman from Georgia.

And she senses an even more disturbing trend, relayed by Mayor Jon Billups, who was fired as The Hawk Eye's circulation director in 2017: "Since the purchase of the paper, he’s noticed a growing negative self-image among residents, he told me. Fewer people see Burlington as a nice place to live; they seem to like their neighbors less. 'We’re struggling with not having [this] iconic thing.' As mayor, he helped start a newsletter to keep residents updated on city projects. 'It’s a matter of time before our local paper does not exist.'"

Godfrey reflects, "When people lament the decline of small newspapers, they tend to emphasize the most important stories that will go uncovered: political corruption, school-board scandals, zoning-board hearings, police misconduct. They are right to worry about that. But often overlooked are the more quotidian stories, the ones that disappear first when a paper loses resources: stories about the annual Teddy Bear Picnic at Crapo Park, the town-hall meeting about the new swimming-pool design, and the tractor games during the Denmark Heritage Days. These stories are the connective tissue of a community; they introduce people to their neighbors, and they encourage readers to listen to and empathize with one another. When that tissue disintegrates, something vital rots away. We don’t often stop to ponder the way that a newspaper’s collapse makes people feel: less connected, more alone. As local news crumbles, so does our tether to one another."

New Tow Center report paints detailed, sometimes troubling, picture of community journalism

Tow Center report based on 2020 survey and compared with similar in 2016. Newspaper centered.

[D]espite seeing potential for the industry, 61 percent of respondents in 2020 hold a “slightly negative” or “very negative” opinion about the prospects for the future of small-market newspapers. Four years ago, the situation (to our surprise) was reversed, with 61 percent of 2016’s sample being “very positive” or “slightly positive” about the future of their industry.

October 04, 2021

Call for Proposals: ISWNE/Huck Boyd "Strengthening Community News" research competition


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 that confront community newspapers and their newsrooms, with particular reference to weekly general-interest publications with circulations under 10,000.

This competition is an extension of the Center’s former “Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium,” co-sponsored for 20 years by the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and its foundation. The competition’s ultimate goal is to engage academicians and community newspaper journalists in productive “conversations about community journalism.”

Proposals will first be peer-reviewed by faculty with expertise in community journalism.  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 ­academic peer review prior to publication in an issue of ISWNE’s Grassroots Editor. The schedule has been set up to ensure publication of all accepted papers by January 2023 or sooner.

Proposals from graduate students are especially encouraged, as are proposals with an international focus, or reflecting an international perspective on community papers’ newsrooms.

One paper will be selected by the community journalists panel for presentation at the 2022 ISWNE conference scheduled July 20-24 in Lexington, KY.  ISWNE and the ISWNE Foundation will provide the author with a complimentary conference registration as well as a partial subsidy for travel. The paper’s author will be expected to make whatever arrangements are necessary to attend this conference.

A second place paper will also be selected and the authors of both top papers will receive complimentary one-year memberships in ISWNE. 

March 20, 2021

Al Smith, who co-founded Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues after weekly-newspaper publishing career, dies at 94

Albert P. Smith Jr.
Al Smith, who published weekly newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee and co-founded the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, died Friday, March 19 at home in Sarasota, Florida. He was 94.

From 1974 to 2007, Smith was the host and producer of Kentucky Educational Television’s “Comment on Kentucky,” the longest running public-affairs show on a PBS affiliate, taking leave in 1980-82 to serve as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission for Presidents Carter and Reagan.

After selling his newspapers in 1985, Smith broadened his civic work. He and his friend Rudy Abramson, who died in 2008, thought up the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in the late 1990s, and he persuaded his onetime New Orleans intern, Hodding Carter III, to take it past the study stage with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which Carter headed. He was chair emeritus of the institute’s Advisory Board. He was a charter member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame and a fellow of the national Society of Professional Journalists and former president of the Kentucky Press Association, a role in which he helped pass the state's main open-government laws.

Smith’s greatest legacy was the many people he helped along the way. He mentored younger journalists and others who crossed his path. He was a kind, generous man and a wonderful (if long-winded) storyteller, with a Shakespearean grasp of political foible and triumph. His curiosity was more than a journalist’s quest for a story; it was a wider curiosity that reflected his love for humanity and its condition. That quality brought him a wide circle of friends from all walks of life. That is reflected in this sidebar of remembrances and tributes on The Rural Blog, an Institute publication.

Two statewide awards are named for him. One is given by the rural-journalism institute and the Bluegrass SPJ Chapter for public service through community journalism (he was its first recipient); the other is a $7,500 award from the Kentucky Arts Commission, which he once chaired, to a Kentucky artist who has achieved a high level of excellence and creativity.

Survivors include his beloved wife of almost 54 years, Martha Helen Smith; his children, Catherine McCarty (William) of Birmingham, Ala.; Lewis Carter Hancock of Louisville and Virginia Major (William) of West Hartford, Conn.; an “adopted” son, Huaming Gu of Shanghai, China; and his sister, Robin Burrow, of Abilene, Texas. He is also survived by five grandchildren, Evan and Connor (Ikue) McCarty, Lauren Hancock, and Susannah and Ava Major; and numerous cousins.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. The family suggests instead that memorial contributions may be made in Al’s honor to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 343 S. Martin Luther King Blvd., #206 BLD, Lexington KY 40506-0012, and to The Hope Center.

December 30, 2020

Tim Crews, late California editor-publisher, wins Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism

Tim Crews of the Sacramento Valley Mirror held up a toothbrush outside a county jail after serving five days in 2000 for refusing to give up an anonymous source. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, The Associated Press)

Tim Crews, a rural editor-publisher who fought for open government in California and went to jail to protect his sources, is the winner of the 2020 Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues (publisher of The Rural Blog). The award recognizes rural journalists who demonstrate outstanding courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism.

Crews died at 77 on Nov. 12 after a long illness and nearly 30 years as publisher and editor of the twice-weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, a town of 6,000 and the seat of Glenn County, pop. 28,000. He was known for relentless open-records requests and for spending five days in jail in 2000 for refusing to reveal sources for a story he published about theft of weapons by a former California Highway Patrol officer.

Crews told the Poynter Institute in 2017 that his twice-weekly paper averaged more than 20 records requests a year, sometimes going to court fight for access. In 2013, a judge said his suit to force a school district to turn over 3,000 withheld emails from the superintendent was frivolous, and ordered him to pay $56,595 in attorneys' fees and costs when his income was 20,000 a year. An appeals court reversed the ruling, and that helped Crews earn the California News Publishers Association Freedom of Information Award. He also received the California Press Foundation’s Newspaper Executive of the Year Award in 2009.

As Crews fought battles for open government, he was known as "an old-time community journalist who stood up for regular people and published obituaries for free," The Associated Press reported after his death. "He dashed about the town of Willows, population 6,000, in red suspenders and with a bushy white beard, covering crime and politics but also community events."

"Tim Crews exemplified the best in rural journalism: broad community service that includes holding local officials and institutions accountable," said Al Cross, director of the institute and extension professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky. "We wish Tim had received the Gish Award while he was still with us, but we are still pleased to recognize his service."

Tom and Pat Gish at award announcement
The award is named for Tom and Pat Gish, who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and repeatedly demonstrated courage, tenacity and integrity through advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office by a local policeman who state police believe was paid by coal companies.

The Gishes, who died in 2008 and 2014, respectively, were the first winners of the award, in 2005. The other winners, in chronological order, have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Texas) Record; Stanley Dearman (former publisher, now deceased) and Jim Prince (publisher), The Neshoba Democrat, Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler of Portland, Oregon, for her work at the Jacksonville (Texas) Daily Progress and the daily Times-Tribune of Corbin, Ky.; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel of Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin, publishers of the now-defunct Yancey County News in Burnsville, N.C.; the late Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Calhoun, Ky.; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M.; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Platte City, Mo.; the Cullen family of the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times; Les Zaitz of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon; and last year, Ken Ward Jr., then of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and now of Mountain State Spotlight; his mentor, the late Paul J. Nyden of the Charleston Gazette; and Howard Berkes, recently retired from NPR.

Presentation of this year's award has been delayed by the pandemic and will be announced later.