By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
Nine promising community news projects from across the U.S. – including two focusing on reaching out to minority communities – were recently selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners. The New Voices program is administered by the J-Lab at American University’s School of Communication.
Two of the projects – Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – specifically target minority communities. Morgan will use the grant to create the MoJo Lab, where students will serve as mobile digital journalists, using video and audio podcasts to focus on community issues in Northeast Baltimore. Driven by a 24% growth in ethnic minorities and immigrants in recent years, the University of Nebraska Journalism College’s New Voices will explore the information needs of these new ethnic communities and work with mobile technology and web design teams to develop a news initiative to reach them. Content will come from students, community members and high school students from immigrant families.
Allissa Richardson, an assistant professor of journalism at Morgan, came up with the idea of the MoJo lab because of how the HBO television series “The Wire” portrayed Baltimore. “A lot of students coming to Morgan were afraid of Baltimore because of what they saw on the show,” she said. “I live in Baltimore, but had never seen the show. After watching some episodes, I saw that while some of the stories were true, some were overblown with drama.”
The issues tackled on the show weren’t handled fairly, said Richardson. “The voice of the community wasn’t represented. We have people working actively in our communities, but we didn’t see that on the show,” she stated.
Richardson wondered where content could be best used. “We started by talking with Afro staff members when we realized they didn’t have a robust multimedia page,” she recalled. .”We asked them what their obstacles were, and they included cost and finding the right media platform. So I thought `why don’t I write grant where you guys can run our stories and offer some multimedia.’”
Anytime you tell stories on mass devastation or societal ills in a region like Northeast Baltimore, there must be balance, Richardson asserted. “For every person committing a crime or getting in trouble, there’s another story of someone trying to help. But many outlets don’t always have resources to cover those stories,” she stated. “Sometimes, there’s no time to get a deeper context, and we want to give them the ability to provide context. The deeper explanations are what we really want students to pay attention to.”
What my team is doing is offering practicum classes at each level, said Richardson. “Normally, you must be a senior for newspaper/yearbook practicum jobs,” she said. “We decided to expand that from freshmen to seniors, but only seniors get paid. We have 478 registered as journalism majors.”
The university will also conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Content will be offered to local newspaper and television stations, and the program already has a deal with the local Afro newspaper.
Part of the grant will be used to buy iPhones equipped with Owle Bubu, a device that attaches to front of the phone that enhances the quality of camera and can plug a mic into it, making it lavalier mic ready, said Richardson. “We will also have iPads. Students will have to learn to design an app,” she said.
There are great black landmarks in Baltimore, and the app will be a locative journalism one, said Richardson. “When students hover over an area, story will pop up about region.”
As for the community part of the grant, the MoJo Lab will send out invitation in July to those in the community for a new media camp, said Richardson. “We’ll offer the camp once a month, and we will spend two days with MoJo learning how to record/film using an iPhone,” she said. “We have ordered copies of Final Cut Pro to teach, and we’ll also offer a course on podcasting. They will be able to rent the equipment.”
The idea for the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s New Voices after Tim Anderson, an associate professor of journalism and another professor focused on the city’s immigrant populations last fall. “We were impressed by the richness of the stories our students found there,” said Anderson. “Mary Pipher, a successful and popular author living in Lincoln, had written “The Middle of Everywhere,” about Lincoln’s experience with refugees, and we used that as a primer for our students.”
The local traditional media, whether newspapers or TV or radio, is not fully covering these communities, and New Voices could help give voice to them, said Anderson. “Lincoln has long been a refugee resettlement center. Both the Catholic and Lutheran churches resettle refugees here, and the federal government has designated it as such,” he explained. “Lincoln has a sizable Vietnamese population and, recently, has seen refugees arrive from Sudan, Iraq and Bosnia, among others.”
It is important for students to cover diverse populations and to put human faces on issues of immigration, said Anderson. “These people are here, but they are, to a large extent, hidden,” he added. “We envision this class as an advanced multimedia class. Enrollment requires the instructor’s permission, so they must demonstrate the journalistic and technical skills to be included.”
The first semester of this class will include advertising students who will help research the communities, and part of that research will be directed at discovering how best to reach these communities, Anderson explained. “Among the things we are preparing are an interactive website and the use of mobile technology,” he said. “Anecdotal evidence suggests these communities may have more access to mobile devices than they do to the Internet.”
The university will create a website devoted specifically to immigration stories, but name has not yet been chosen, said Anderson. “We have no end-date in mind. The goal is to create something that will sustain itself, both through the involvement of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications but, even more, through the involvement of the immigrant communities themselves,” he noted.
For a complete list of the winners, click here.