August 13, 2013

Three more years! AEJMC Board renews COMJIG

The AEJMC Board of Directors met last week and approved the Community Journalism Interest Group for three more years. The current officers are obviously very pleased about this news. Below is the renewal request that was submitted to AEJMC, which summarizes what COMJIG has accomplished and where it is going.

COMJIG Request for Renewal with AEJMC
Presented to the AEJMC Board of Directors
July 15, 2013
Prepared by:
John Hatcher, outgoing head, University of Minnesota Duluth
Eileen Gilligan, incoming head, SUNY-Oswego
Dianne Garyantes, Vice head/programming, Rowan University
Letter of support, Jeremy Littau, Leigh University, outgoing head of Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group
Letter of support, Chad Stebbins, executive director of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors
Letter of support, Wilson Lowery, University of Alabama, graduate coordinator
Letter of support, Tommy Thomason, Texas Christian University, director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism
Letter of support, Al Cross, University of Kentucky, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism
Letter of support, Jock Lauterer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, director of the Carolina Community Media Project
COMJIG Annual Report, 2013
COMJIG Annual Report, 2012
COMJIG summary of programming 2011-2013
COMJIG Request for Renewal with AEJMC
A Google search using the words “community journalism” is really all that is needed to show just how much AEJMC’s Community Journalism Interest Group and its members have accomplished in 9 short years. Below the Wikipedia entry is screen after screen of entries that are either directly related to COMJIG – for example, the COMJIG blog, with its 260 entries and 24,003 page views – or programs and projects that have been undertaken by COMJIG members. Often these are projects borne from ideas that began in the COMJIG-sponsored events at AEJMC conferences over the years. Today, we can boast of numerous community journalism-focused programs at top journalism schools such as Ohio University, Texas Christian University and the University of Alabama. We have a new peer-reviewed journal, Community Journalism, which showcases community journalism research. And we have a growing network that closely connects students and faculty with journalism practitioners.
It’s likely COMJIG will never be a division of AEJMC, but we hope this document and the accompanying letters of support show that for a core group of scholars and educators, the energy found in this interest group has encouraged us to collaborate and work and to help make sure that AEJMC is recognized as a leader in a growing, international interest in community journalism: an intimate style of journalism that sees journalists as embedded in their community situation.
Mission and goals
We hope this report and the accomplishments of COMJIG and its members show how our work has been closely aligned with the Guiding Principles established in 2004:
·      To invigorate and inspire educators in community journalism by forming a national cohort of like-minded scholars sharing their ideas, findings and work on an annual basis.
·      To open a national dialogue on community journalism by creating a networking system and an annual focal point for educators in this field.
·      To foster, encourage and reward superior academic work in community journalism through an annual competition that would identify and showcase the best research papers and creative teaching ideas.
·      To move the field forward by supporting and affirming great teaching, publications and research in the field.
·      To stimulate new affiliations, research and publications by nurturing and mentoring young academics in the field.
·      To make a positive difference in the profession of community journalism by forging new partnerships and building new bridges between the academy and the profession, and by producing significant and practical research immediately useful to the profession.
Defining COMJIG
“What is community journalism?”
“How are you different from the Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group?”
Hopefully, the days when these questions were asked are behind us. While the members of COMJIG are keenly aware of our mission and focus, we realize that this is not always clear to those on the outside – much as it might be said these days for people trying discern how Electronic News might be different from the Newspaper and Online divisions. However, in perusing the mission laid out for this group in 2004, what we hope you will see is that the accomplishments and the goals outlined in this request align strongly with our mission.
As AEJMC’s Jennifer McGill told us recently, it was probably a bad idea for COMJIG to hold its member meetings jointly with the Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group. For the past two years, we have discontinued this practice. What’s more, CCJIG’s name change to the Participatory Journalism Interest Group will do even more to differentiate us. Further, we have included in this request a letter from PJIG’s outgoing head, Jeremy Littau, stating his own support for COMJIG as a separate entity.
At its core, COMJIG’s focus is on journalism produced by people who are members of the communities they serve. Historically, this has meant a strong focus on rural, print newspapers in geographically defined communities. However, as noted in numerous scholarly articles, books and elsewhere, the concept of community has been radically transformed with the growth of online communities. Our group continues to explore in its research and elsewhere how community journalism varies based on differences in ownership structure, culture, media type, community type.
A bit of background
In August of 2004, the current outgoing head of COMJIG, John Hatcher, was a fledgling doctoral student at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, when he attended AEJMC’s annual convention in Toronto. There, he ran into community journalism scholar Jock Lauterer, whom he had first met in his days at the now-defunct Center for Community Journalism based in SUNY Oswego. There’s a meeting tonight that I want you to come to, Lauterer said. It’s about community journalism and I want you there.
So, Hatcher went and he saw assembled many of the people who had, for years, worked on their own to study and connect with the niche of journalism that often was lost in discussions of larger media that cater to mass audiences. Lauterer, the group learned, had partnered with Peggy Kuhr to convince AEJMC to support the creation of a new Community Journalism Interest Group.
It’s hard to know for certain how different the academic landscape in the field of community journalism would be today without this effort, but there is no denying that since that time, interest in community journalism has exploded and COMJIG members have led the way. On a personal note, one of the authors of this report (John Hatcher, now a tenured associate professor) can attest that his research interests would likely have been pulled in a very different direction were it not for the mentoring and encouragement of the COMJIG family.
COMJIG’s recent accomplishments
Here, briefly, are some of the highlights in the field of community journalism COMJIG had been a part of, with a greater attention given to activities accomplished since COMJIG’s last renewal in 2010.
·      Peer-reviewed journal: The Texas Center for Community Journalism and COMJIG have agreed on a memorandum to make the peer-reviewed journal, Community Journalism, the official journal of COMJIG. This request is also before the AEJMC Board of Directors for its consideration this year.
·      Industry-faculty connection: This year, the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors gave a scholarship to COMJIG so its head, John Hatcher, could attend its annual convention free of charge. It was agreed that this should continue each year so that faculty with an interest in community journalism can connect with community journalism practitioners from around the world. This, in turn, will lead to encouraging faculty to share with students career opportunities related to community journalism – including newspaper ownership. Included in this request for renewal is a letter from ISWNE executive director Chad Stebbins voicing his support for COMJIG.
·      Programs with a community journalism focus: As the letters included with this request show, we have a strong bond with the many, new community journalism programs that have started in the United States even as we work to foster new interest in community journalism in other countries.
·      Conference programming with a focus on issues of diversity: We hope you will take a moment and review the attachment that gives an overview of the programming that COMJIG has worked to bring to AEJMC in the past three years. We think it shows a strong desire to explore the relationship between community type and journalism with a special emphasis on historically marginalized communities.
·      Encouraging community journalism research: For so many decades, community journalism has been relegated to the back of the room in divisions that are dominated by the voices of big media. With its own interest group and membership, COMJIG can showcase research in this area with a strong and direct emphasis on encouraging new scholars and educators to focus their work in this area of journalism. In 2012, Sage published Foundations of Community Journalism (Reader & Hatcher), a collected volume that has sold more than 400 copies and that includes contributions from many COMJIG members.
·      Internationally known blog: While some groups and divisions put out their obligatory newsletters, COMJIG’s blog has gained high acclaim as a starting point for scholars and others interested in learning more about community  journalism.  
·      Social media growth: Since launching its Facebook page in 2012, the COMJIG Facebook group has grown to 107 members as of the filing of this report. Coupled with our email listserve and our active blog, communication with our members and promoting our mission has become a daily activity.
COMJIG’s current projects
·      Roots Journalism Award: As noted in our annual report, this year we have created our first Roots Journalism Award, recognizing an educator who has made a significant contribution to community journalism. Going forward, we plan to create a committee that will review nominations for this award and more formalize the process.
·      Ten-year anniversary and an emphasis on community: The new officers of COMJIG have already begun discussion of how to properly mark COMJIG’s first decade as an interest group with a focus on defining community and its role in shaping journalism.
·      Diversifying membership: In spite of a great deal of programming devoted exploring community journalism produced by historically marginalized communities, it has been admittedly difficult to diversify our membership. We aren’t done trying. This year we hope to work with ISWNE to reach out to journalists and educators in both indigenous communities in the United States, Canada and Norway as well as journalists and educators in the developing nations of Africa.
·      More graduate level research: This year we intend to host a research session at the Southeast Colloquium to encourage more graduate students to submit work to COMJIG.

Membership trends
We are excited by our membership trends this year and we credit this to a greater emphasis on communicating with our members throughout the year. Even before the AEJMC conference registration push for this year, our numbers are already at 79, suggesting we are well on track to top last year’s figure of 80 as we move back upward toward our original numbers.
As Table 1 below suggests, there was a decline in membership between 2010 and 2011. AEJMC’s business manager Jenni Meyer told us that this followed a trend across AEJMC:What you see as your numbers have gone down has also happened to most every group. As we have added new groups to the mix, members have joined the new groups, and have often changed the second group they normally belonged to.”
Table 1: COMJIG membership trends
June 2013
September 2012
September 2011
September 2010
September 2009
September 2008
September 2007
(Source: AEJMC business manager Jenni Meyer)
*AEJMC’s database was down at the filing time for this report and this figure does not reflect membership increase included with 2013 conference registration.
COMJIG’s niche in AEJMC
In concluding, we hope you will take a minute and read the letters of support for COMJIG. We think they speak volumes about who we are and the role that we’ve played for AEJMC and its members. Even though we have a strong, core group of loyal members, we think it is unlikely that we will push for division status at any time. We believe strongly that the niche of journalism that we are focused on must have its own distinct voice within the larger body of AEJMC and hope that the AEJMC Board of Directors agrees.
It’s important to remember that the typically small news organizations that we focus our work on comprise what Ohio University’s Bill Reader has long called the “bottom of the iceberg” in the media landscape. In recent years, we’ve seen the top of that iceberg melt, to continue the analogy, while the community journalism landscape is flourishing in ways we could not have envisioned even in COMJIG’s short lifetime. Were COMJIG to vanish, the educators and scholars devoted to community journalism would continue to do their work, but we firmly believe some momentum would be lost without a central place for us to share our ideas and our passion.

Current and incoming officers
Current Officers:
·      Head: John Hatcher, Minnesota-Duluth 
·      Vice head/programming: Eileen Gilligan, SUNY-Oswego
·      Research chair: Dianne Garyantes, Rowan University
·      PF&R chair: Al Cross, Kentucky
·      Teaching standards chair: Andrea Frantz, Buena Vista
·      Secretary/membership: Dana Coester, West Virginia
·      Professional liaison: Barbara Selvin, Stony Brook
·      Graduate student liaison: Clay Carey, Ohio
·      Past head: Joe Marren, Buffalo State
Incoming officers
·      Head: Eileen Gilligan, SUNY-Oswego
·      Vice head/programming: Dianne Garyantes, Rowan
·      Research chair: Mark Poepsel, Loyola University New Orleans
·      PF&R chair: Al Cross, Kentucky
·      Teaching standards chair: Andrea Frantz, Buena Vista
·      Secretary/membership: Dana Coester, West Virginia
·      Professional liaison: Barbara Selvin, Stony Brook
·      Graduate student liaison: Clay Carey, Ohio
·      Past head: John Hatcher, Minnesota Duluth
Other Recent Past Heads:
·      Andris Straumanis, Wisconsin-River Falls
·      Doug Fisher, South Carolina
·      Liz Hansen, Eastern Kentucky
·      Bill Reader, Ohio
·      Peggy Kuhr, Montana
Founder/head emeritus: Jock Lauterer, North Carolina 

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