Cheryl Gibbs, Assistant Director, Journalism Program, Miami University Oxford, OH
Miami University Journalism Program
260A Bachelor Hall
Oxford, OH 45056
(513) 529-1923 E-mail Website
Partnering higher learning with public and commercial media, this project will create a regional news service for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists and students at Miami University and Earlham College will produce stories for an interactive website and content will be shared with local mainstream media. Pilot partners include WMUB public radio, the Cincinnati Business Journal, Cox Ohio newspapers in Dayton, Hamilton, Oxford and Middletown, and Gannett’s Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana. They seek to create a replicable model for covering regional news.
Miami Valley News Network Struggles with its Vision
While efforts to create a regional news service met with limited successes and a revamped Miami Valley News Network website was launched in 2012, project leader Cheryl Gibbs reports frustrations on many levels.
On the plus side, journalism faculty at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, changed the Online Journalism class so that students post their stories to MVNN.org. And the project helped the school:
Generate quality news content in many classes.
Provide content to legacy news organizations.
Provide free student labor.
But, Gibbs said, the project suffers from having no full-time faculty or editors and no dedicated grad students or work-study students.
She said the region's legacy media were not in a financial position to pay for stories that might produce a revenue stream to support the project. And Oxford itself was probably too small of a community to generate philanthropic support. Moreover, officials and residents might be overwhelmed if a corps of students were dispatched to report on the town.
A possible solution, she said, would be to reimage the Miami Valley News Network as a selective "off-campus" semester program based at the university's Middletown campus. Students could earn 16 credits by generating authentic news coverage for a community of more than 50,000 people. Student could either file stories on MVNN or work for the local Middletown Journal.
For the Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project, the first year has seen its share of successes and frustrations.
As project director Cheryl Gibbs noted, after many stops and starts Mi-Whi (the site’s abbreviated “nickname”) has its basic web portal built. But problems with the university’s firewall meant the site was not visible to the outside world until July. Those problems have been fixed, though, and you can see the new site at http://www.mi-whinews.org.
After the launch, Gibbs said, “Whew! What I know now, having worked on the portal!”
Her basic goal was to create a portal that an “eighth grader could use to submit a story and a photo,” and provide a place where content from the site’s professional partners could be aggregated, creating a truly regional news site. “It does those essential things, but it’s not as beautiful as I’d like it to be—or as interesting/interactive,” said Gibbs, an assistant professor of journalism at Miami University.
The next step, technologically, will be to “dress up the portal a bit,” Gibbs said, adding that she’d “like to include a carousel on the front page, for example.”
The portal’s lack of visibility (until recently) meant that while the 12 to 46 students who had worked on the site had created a steady stream of content, there had been no place to showcase it. You can now see past examples of the students’ work on the newly visible portal.
“If I had to pick one example that comes closest to the perfect example [of what the students can contribute to the site], it would be the story they did on education and the economy, in part because the students also held public forums about those stories,” said Gibbs. You can read a news story about one of those forums here and you can watch a video recording of the forum here.
“Whew! What I know now, having worked on the portal!”
This fall, students in at least two of the journalism department’s Intro to Journalism classes (25 students each) will be producing citizen journalism stories in addition to the work Gibbs’ online journalism students (18) will be doing with a partner newspaper. “Now that the portal is up, we have the capacity to engage many more students in producing real stories for real news organizations, and one of my tasks is now to work with my colleagues to try to get as many of them on board with that as possible,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs said Mi-Whi has also begun scheduling meetings with its media partners and with libraries and other community organizations to discuss plans for its citizen journalism initiative. Currently plans call for the initiative to kick off during spring semester in 2010.
Mi-Whi is also seeking funding from community foundations to purchase camcorders and other equipment to place in public libraries, so that citizen journalists can check them out. Mi-Whi will then need to work with its media partners to develop a training format, and train students as trainers. It will then schedule citizen journalism trainings in various communities by partnering with community organizations and schools who may be willing to host those trainings.
Mi-Whi continues to grow its list of partners, especially in the area of community organizations. Gibbs said there has been a degree of ebb and flow in these relationships; editors/news directors come and go, or turn their attention away from the students’ work on Mi-Whi and toward other projects. Yet all of its original partnerships remain viable and new ones have been cultivated, particularly new partnerships with Girls Inc. and Whitewater Community Television in Richmond, Indiana.
But Mi-Whi’s relationship with Miami University’s IT department is one that Gibbs did not foresee. The project had originally hired an outside designer to help with the site, but when problems developed with deliverables, Gibbs found herself relying on the university’s IT department. She believes this partnership has value for both parties. The difficult patches have come, however, when Mi-Whi has called on the IT department to go beyond its “comfort zone” on computer server security issues. “A lot of the conversations I’ve had with the IT folks remind me of conversations I’ve had or overheard with the gatekeepers of journalism when similar concerns began to arise there,” said Gibbs.
Surprisingly, Gibbs said that the response from the IT folks has been that they want to be involved in the project because they actually enjoy finding ways to rise to these challenges.
Another challenge is the struggle to work within the university’s current budget restrictions to ensure that the project will be sustained. Yet despite the harsh economic climate, the university has given permission to hire a faculty member who will serve part-time in journalism, part-time in interactive media studies, and that position has been authorized at a “clinical faculty” level (which means the person will not be required to have a Ph.D., only a master’s degree). Gibbs said this person is expected to take a significant leadership role in the Miami-Whitewater project.
Mi-Whi News’ student journalists continue to contribute content to the story-budget site, content that is then made available to area news organizations. Success in partnering with media outlets, however, remains uneven: Some, but not all, area newspapers are picking up student-generated copy. Says project leader Cheryl Gibbs, assistant director of Miami University of Ohio’s journalism program: “We remain optimistic and are continually working to sustain existing partnerships and cultivate new ones.”
Student journalists are working with an editor from the Dayton Daily News this semester, but they are not collaborating directly with other local papers, in Middletown and Hamilton, Ohio. Student stories have been used in the past by those news outlets, both in print and online. Says Gibbs: “It is clear that we need to form personal relationships with editors at the early stages of creating student work we plan to offer to them.”
Mi-Whi News continues to partner with The Palladium-Item in Richmond, Ind. Students’ work on a special website set up for the newspaper’s coverage of the 40th anniversary of a deadly explosion in Richmond contributed to the paper’s winning a first-place award for public service from the Associated Press in Indiana. However, layoffs at the newspaper have complicated the partnership, as key newsroom contacts have assumed additional work and are considerably busier than ever.
Mi-Whi - short for the Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project - is waiting for the completion of a web portal that will allow greater interactivity among student journalists, local news outlets and readers. The Richmond, Ind.-based web design firm Summersault is working on a portal that will allow student, citizen and professional journalists to upload to and preview stories on the Mi-Whi site. Student-generated material is posted to the website after it has been fact-checked and edited by a professional and/or faculty editor.
Designated media partners will be able to access a raw materials archive (primarily audio, video and documents gathered by student journalists), while readers can search the archives, view printer-friendly versions of stories, e-mail content and contribute feedback. Regular users may set up accounts to receive e-mail updates and post attributed comments. Data drawn from this user base could be used in the future to solicit readers’ thoughts or even contributions based on their demographic profile.
Gibbs and her team are actively seeking grants to continue the Mi-Whi project. Two faculty members are working to secure National Endowment for the Humanities funds to collaborate with the Dayton-based ThinkTV on a documentary. In addition, Gibbs has contacted the university’s development department about creating a “donate” button on the Mi-Whi website.
The mood at Mi-Whi is upbeat. “The most amazing thing about this project is seeing students get excited about using these new tools for doing journalism - and exploring ways to use these tools in innovative ways,” Gibbs says, adding, “The students also are transformed by doing actual journalism in which they interview real people about actual situations.”
Among the web projects created by Miami University journalism students was www.JRN421TheLearningCurve.com, which grew out of an assignment to look into declining funding for public education in two communities near Oxford - Union County, Indiana, and Middletown, Ohio, a former industrial center that Forbes magazine recently dubbed one of the “fastest-declining towns in America.” Students gave public presentations of their work in each community.
Journalism major Danny Lautar, who reported from Middletown, wrote of his experience: “No longer is [journalism] just my major or a ticket to law school. It’s a real profession and it’s a passion that I’m now glad I have pursued.”
The Miami-WhiteWater Valley Public Media Project has landed on a snappy new name: Mi-Whi News. Based at Miami University, the project is pulling together students, community, and mainstream news organizations to partner on regional coverage.
One of the partners is the Richmond Palladium-Item in Indiana, a newsroom where Mi-Whi News coordinator Cheryl Gibbs once worked. “Five department level managers were recently eliminated there. They are a small enough paper, so they are open to the help,” she said. “They don’t have the tech equipment. So, our school will provide cameras.”
In October 2008, students participated in a Palladium-sponsored online chat during the vice presidential debate. Gibbs says it was a good experience, despite technical difficulties. The students also put together a special report for Election 2008.
“We’re experimenting with news way of doing journalism,” says Gibbs. “We’re learning about Twitter, Mogulus and bandwidth.” Mogulus is site that enables users to create their own TV studios. Mi-Whi used it to stream a candidate’s forum in Richmond.
The project is continuing to reach out to new potential partners. WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio and Whitewater Community Television, the cable access channel in Richmond, have both expressed interest. Community partners are encouraged to use Mi-WhiNews content, with credit.
“Students are getting excited about doing multimedia. We’re helping them write to a professional standard. They do a lot of good work that doesn’t get any audience. So this is a good way to make it public and serve the community,” said Gibbs.
Mi-Whi has hired Summersault.com to design its open-source web portal where assignments will be tracked and all content will be aggregated.
Gibbs’ advice to other citizen media initiatives: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, do it anyway.” Professors are learning to use new technologies right alongside their students.
RICHMOND, Ind. — Earlham College students will have a chance to change how local news is reported, thanks to an innovative partnership between Earlham and Miami University and funded by the New Voices program of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism, administers the program.
Ten innovative media projects were selected from a record pool of 312 applicants, reports J-Lab. The grant winners will receive $12,000 in first-year funding to launch their program and $5,000 in matching support in the second year.
The project, known as the Miami-Whitewater Valley Public Media Project, will partner higher education with public and commercial media to create a new regional newsgathering model for Southwest Ohio and East Central Indiana. Citizen journalists along with students from Miami and Earlham will produce stories for an interactive website and content will be shared with more traditional media outlets.
New Voices is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. New Voices is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.