One of my projects for fall is a new course in partnership with our local PBS affiliate, WXXI Public Broadcasting. The idea is that collaborating will help extend the station’s newsgathering capacity through the students’ reporting work while the students get valuable experience and portfolio pieces.
Such collaborations are hardly unique, having been done by other schools and other professional partners. But it’s a first for our program.
We’re treating it as a service learning course under the auspices of my college’s Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement, and so some of the initial background reading will be about journalism and community building. Fortunately, there’s a lot of good material out there about that topic.
A curated reading list from longtime online community journalist and blogger Lisa Williams offered me a good start on my “string-gathering” for this project, as well as a good quote describing the philosophy of what we’re setting out to accomplish. The context was an idea Williams called “A Job Description for Community Engagement for News in 2015,” and in introducing that she wrote:
“We believe that we cannot have a better journalism without doing a better job forging deep & lasting connections with the people we serve. Although we believe that building community is tied to our mission, we also know that it is tied to the long-term viability of our news organizations.”
One of the links in Williams’s list, but one I also have come across elsewhere, is the Declaration of Dependence by Molly de Aguiar and Josh Stearns of the Local News Lab project of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The “Declaration” post is subtitled “Communities and news organizations working together will transform local journalism,” and makes valuable points such as
“The long-term sustainability of local news depends on deepening journalists’ engagement with communities. Through shifts in technology, economics and newsroom processes, the public has become increasingly central to journalism as creators, consumers and collaborators. Today, news organizations should be vibrant hubs for community information, engagement and debate that people depend on.”
We’ll be examining some other Local News Lab entries including Building Journalism With Community, Not For It and Journalism’s Theory of Change: From Community Engagement to Civic Action, in which Stearns writes “At one time, (an) overt emphasis on civic action would have raised red flags for many journalists. But increasingly we are seeing some newsrooms frame their work as a springboard for action.”
Another interesting project the students will examine as part of the background for their work in Rochester The Coral Project , a Knight Foundation funded collaborative enterprise to develop reader interactions on news sites through free and open-source tools. In particular, I’ll have them start with a couple of good blog posts by JournalismUK and Poynter that describe the project in more detail.
Finally, there is this recent post from Jan Schaffer of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism about the lessons that can be taken from the halcyon days of civic/public journalism as we try to formulate new models for journalism built around civic engagement such as the Local News Lab and Coral Project. As Schaffer summarizes it:
“Simply put: civic journalism worked. Readers and viewers got it. We learned that if you deliberately build in simple ways for people to participate — in community problems or elections — many will engage.”
That will be the goal for my students in our project this fall, too.