When Allissa Richardson's students began to plan a website for their community news stories, they insisted on one element: it needed to be easily viewable on cellphones. That way, if they were in the grocery store and ran into someone they had interviewed, they could show them the story.
The Morgan State University students will be covering a Baltimore community that is largely urban and African-American, a demographic with a higher rate of accessing the Internet via smart phones.
The project is one of two that aim to use mobile-friendly sites and applications to reach minority communities with $17,000 in New Voices grants. Administered by J-Lab and funded by Knight Foundation, the program seeds innovative community news ventures.
The second project, out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, involves covering refugee communities in and around the city, which has been designated by the federal government and the Catholic and Lutheran churches as a receiving community for refugees from Sudan, Iraq and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
'Another professor and I were experimenting in a web journalism class with restricting our students to covering immigrant communities to get them out there reporting,' Professor Tim Anderson explained. 'Our students found some really rich stories, what people had gone through to get here and make new lives.'
That formed the impetus for a new project to get students not just finding stories in those communities, but to get them working to figure out the information those communities need, involving members of the communities in the formation of a partner relationship.
Many members of the refugee communities have access to the Internet, and are pretty comfortable with it, through their refugee centers and libraries, Anderson said. He plans to explore mobile applications to see if that will help reach deeper into the community, while using some of the grant money for mobile devices to make it easier for his students to report in the field.
Richardson's students, meanwhile, will also use mobile devices in reporting, heading into the community with iPhones and iPads. They'll report stories, shoot video, edit it on their mobile devices and send it to be posted ' all from the field.
'A lot of my students are scared to go into these communities with a big, clunky video camera,' Richardson explained. 'I thought, 'what can I give them that doesn't make them feel like such an outsider?' And I'd already seen them taking notes in my classes with their thumbs. They're completely comfortable using their cell phones.'
Their stories will run on the website of the 'local African-American newspaper and in their own student newspaper.