January 13, 2010

Looking for community-focused reporting examples

A longtime teacher once told me that the key to success is to never teach a class the same way twice. Either through intention or disorganization, I've followed this advice and this semester it's got me looking hard at a community-focused editing class that I've taught for years.
I'm looking for examples of how others do it, I suppose.
The class, which was the focus of a study published in the most recent issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, follows a model of reporting inspired largely by the Poynter Institute's summer fellows program, which was, in turn inspired the journalism program at West Virginia University. Basically, students are assigned geographic sections of a community and discover the news by mapping that area, walking that area, studying that area for what emerges. There are too many people to credit for these ideas, but COMJIG founding member Peggy Kuhr's great Web site, Covering Communities, has helped me a great deal.
Over the years, students have discovered stories that surprised us all. The hope is that someday the project will grow into a year-round community news lab where students and community members will collaborate.
This year I'm trying a few new things. In the past an editing class has overseen a reporting class in this project, but that's always been problematic. This year the editing class will be the newsroom, soliciting work from other journalism classes. Each student will apply for a "job" in that newsroom based on the needs of the news organization and on the interests of the students.
It will be exciting; it will be messy. And, as I write this, I'm left wondering about a number of different things:
- How on earth do I grade students in such a setup? I'm considering some kind of performance review where students submit a report documenting the work they've done.
- How do I plan such a class? The first few weeks are basically about looking at different models, getting everyone set up and thinking about logistics. However, after about week four I'm tempted just to write: Publish, publish, publish. That doesn't seem like enough...
- Will anyone do the reporting? I know students will want to work as editors and to do multimedia work, but can I reasonably expect anyone to step forward to do the important nuts and bolts reporting that is crucial to the publication's success. Perhaps each person will have to do some share of the reporting.
So, I'm asking for help. How do you do it? What has worked? What hasn't? What advice would you offer to anyone thinking of doing a practicum of this nature? I see that many of these questions will be answered at the AEJMC sessions scheduled for Denver, but for the time being...


Bernard L. Stein said...

"Will anyone do the reporting," you ask. They will if they have a real news outlet to report for.

Instead of hoping "that someday the project will grow into a year-round community news lab," start it now. No, it won't be year-round--yet. But it will tell stories no one else is telling to a larger community. It will offer students the chance to be read and be held accountable as reporters. It will enable them to build a portfolio. That's how you'll find students to "to step forward to do the important nuts and bolts reporting that is crucial to the publication's success."
You needn't aim for the moon. Bring out one issue this semester. Publish two more next fall. Watch it grow.
Bernard L. Stein
Professor, Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Editor, The Hunts Point Express and the Mott Haven Herald, community newspapers staffed by my students.

Eileen Gilligan, Assistant Professor, SUNY Oswego said...

John et al,
The students who are uncomfortable aka scared of editing will step forward to report. I suggest requiring each student to report at least one story during the semester while taking turns at editing. Good luck!