Interactive Journalism

    by Angela Powers
    December 18, 2008

    The A.Q. Miller School of Journalism hosted an informational meeting with local elected public officials on Wednesday, November 19, to showcase VoxPop, an interactive tool for civic engagement, developed by journalism students through the Knight News Challenge grant. The school is collaborating with the Manhattan Mercury to launch and research VoxPop. The software innovation allows area citizens to contact elected officials regarding local issues in the news.
    The AQ Miller School of Journalism at Kansas State University was among a consortium of universities awarded a $235,000 grant by the Knight Foundation to develop new ways and technologies that can help community newspapers to better engage citizens in local issues. Students developed a web-based software that helps citizens contact public officials using news sites. The software is embedded in news stories and once citizens read a story, they can automatically contact a public official regarding an issue mentioned in the story.
    The informational meeting was held at the Union Pacific Train Depot, 120 Fort Riley Boulevard, on November 19 at 5 p.m. Elected public officials in the Manhattan, Kansas, community were invited to learn more about this civic engagement initiative. They were also asked to fill out a questionnaire on civic engagement which will be used for researches purposes.
    About 50 people attended the event. Dr. Angela Powers’ opening remarks were as follows:
    Tonight we will hear a brief report from one of our students who helped develop Vox Pop, Matt Sundberg. We will also see a demonstration from the Manhattan Mercury conducted by Brian Rempe. What you will hear is the result of 2 ½ years of work, and I would like to tell you how this project came to be.
    About three years ago, Dr. Dianne Lynch, Ithaca College had an idea that students should challenge one another to come up with a better model of community journalism. At the time, deans and directors from journalism programs around the country were participating in a leadership fellowship program. One evening 7 deans and directors met in Dr. Lynches’ hotel room to brainstorm about writing and submitting a grant to the Knight Foundation. You must realize these activities are time-consuming and often burdensom because we’re all really busy with administration, teaching, research and day-to-day running of our programs. However the potential to benefit our students and our communities was too hard to resist.
    We submitted the proposal and received a reward $230,000. Our next step was to select faculty members to take on the project and recruit students and mentor them over the following year. I presented the idea to my faculty and asked for interested parties. Dr. Sam Mwangi stepped up to the plate. Again, you have to realize that as a new tenure-track faculty, Sam is extremely busy prepping classes, getting used to the community, working on his tenure and promotion, advising student organizations and doing research. There was no guarantee that this project would help in get tenure or result in anything positive… except that it would benefit students. But that’s all Dr. Mwangi needed to know.
    Sam’s challenge was to find good students; each program was allowed seven. He solicited our best, and 7 stepped up to the plate. Incentives for the students included course credit, stipends, travel, networking possibilities and the change to make a difference. Once they were brought on board, they had to promise they would not quit. And it took a great deal of effort on their part to participate over the next year.
    Seven groups of 7 students traveled over the summer, brainstormed, discussed ideas, agreed and disagreed with each other, and finally they developed 7 prototypes for digital media. Three of the projects were chosen for presentation at ONA in Toronto.
    The last phase was to implement the projects and conduct research on impact, which brings us here tonight. Our students and Dr. Mwangi had the vision and General Manager Ned Seaton at the Manhattan Mercury had the intelligence and courage to try it out. What started as an idea in a hotel room was nurtured and then bloomed into something that would impact a lot of students and give them experiences they would have never had otherwise and result in a project that would change the way that media and the community would interact in Manhattan, Kansas. I can see this going statewide and even national in no time.
    As of this writing, almost a month after the meeting with public officials, VoxPop is live. As Brian Rempe wrote, “Hey guys, I just wanted to let you all know that VoxPop is now live and working on The Mercury’s site! Let me know if you see or hear of any problems. I am excited to hear the response!” So are we. Stay tuned.

    Tagged: blogs citizen journalism interactivity local politics

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