August 15, 2006

Summary of 2005 COMJIG business meeting

Better late than's a summary of what happened at the 2005 COMJIG business meeting at the AEJMC convention in San Antonio.

Community Journalism Interest Group
Business Meeting Summary
AEJMC, San Antonio, Texas
Aug. 11, 2005

The meeting was called to order at 8:30 p.m. by Jock Lauterer, North Carolina, chair.

Attending were Peggy Kuhr, Kansas, vice chair; Bill Reader, Ohio, research chair; Al Cross, Kentucky; Jack Rosenberry, St. John Fisher College; John Hatcher; Ray Laakaniemi, Bowling Green; Ken Smith, Wyoming; Rich Martin, Illinois; Gene Burd, Texas-Austin; Amber Willard, Kansas State; Corbin Crabel, Kansas State; Janice Hume, Georgia; Joe Marren, Buffalo State; Chad Stebbins, Missouri Southern; Elena Jarvis, Daytona College; Les Anderson, Wichita State; Eileen Gilligan, SUNY-Oswego; Brian Steffens, National Newspaper Association executive director; Kathleen Mason, St. Bonaventure; Liz Hansen, Eastern Kentucky; Bill Keller, Alabama; Chris Waddle, Alabama; Ralph Hanson, West Virginia; Pat McNeeley, South Carolina.

Following introductions, most of the meeting was devoted to a teaching roundtable, with those attending identifying problems in attracting students to community journalism, describing their programs and exchanging ideas for teaching community journalism.

Jock Lauterer began with a discussion of the definition of community journalism, noting that Ken Byerly coined the term in his 1959 book, Community Journalism. He then asked attendees to talk about what’s happening on their campuses regarding community journalism and challenges that need to be addressed.

Listed among the challenges/problems with attracting students to careers in community journalism were:
Students viewing community journalism as a stepping stone to dailies.
Students’ concern about salaries.

Participants also listed possible solutions for the problems:
Brian Steffens of NNA said statistics showing the strength of community newspapers should help convince students to consider community papers. He also suggested community journalism programs should look beyond the content of the paper and teach students about the whole operation.
John Hatcher said it is important to let students know that they can own their own community newspaper at an early age.
To combat students’ concerns about money, Chad Stebbins said he brings in guest speakers who explain how to make money by owning community newspapers.

Several participants listed cooperative relationships with the press association and community newspapers in their states:
-- At Wyoming, the state press association was asked to assess the journalism program and concluded more community journalism should be offered.
--In Kentucky, the state press association provides more than 20 summer internships for students to work 10 weeks for community newspapers.
--Missouri has an endowed chair in community newspaper management and students spend two weeks at a community newspaper as part of the community journalism class.
--Buffalo State’s faculty has formed informal partnerships with community newspapers.
--North Carolina, through its Carolina Community Media Project, provides a “personal evangelist” (better known as Jock Lauterer) to work with newspapers in the state.
--The University of Alabama and the Anniston Star have established a joint program, funded by the Knight Foundation, leading to a master’s degree in community journalism. Starting in the fall of 2006, students will spend a year at the Anniston Star taking classes and learning all aspects of the newspaper. The program’s director, Chris Waddle, explained that the goal is to seed the industry with people who can run their own newspaper.
--In what started as program funded by the Kentucky Press Association, community journalism students at Eastern Kentucky do readership studies and other research for a community newspaper each time the class is offered. The newspaper’s owner pays the cost of the project. The entire class is built around the project.

Attendees also described some of the other ways community journalism is taught, including:
--At Ohio, the community journalism class is designed to help students figure out whether community journalism is for them.
--At St. John Fisher College, there is no formal class but the campus newspaper is operated as a weekly community newspaper.
--At Alabama, Bill Keller requires his community journalism students to read John Grisham’s “The Last Juror” because of the legal and ethical issues it raises. He also has publishers talk about career paths and assigns students to individual papers. Alabama also has a hometown news bureau.
--At West Virginia, students are assigned a 10-block beat and have to write various kinds of stories from their beat.
--At Wichita State, community journalism principles are integrated into other courses.
--At North Carolina, students are each assigned a community paper and report on that paper at the end of the semester.

Peggy Kuhr said Kansas is re-examining the best practices and values of journalism and the results will be posted online.

Attendees also discussed the need for more research in community journalism. Bill Reader suggested an academic journal devoted to community journalism might be something the group should consider in the future. Waddle pointed out that the Knight grant establishing the MA program at the Anniston Star also calls for creation of a journal. Grassroots Editor is already published by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. Keller noted the importance of translating academic research for use by professionals in the field.

Participants also agreed to share teaching ideas by posting syllabi and other materials on the Web site of the Community Journalism Interest Group.

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