Students Pilot Innovative Way for Newsrooms to Connect with Communities

Team Now Vies for $10,000 Prize in National Competition

Kent State students are envisioning a new way for local newsrooms to connect with their audiences: through a two-way text-messaging communication channel.

The idea is part of the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s 2020-21 Student Innovation competition.

A team of Kent State students — Alex Johnson (senior journalism major), Amanda Shah (Ph.D. candidate, higher education administration) and Kate Klonowski (Ph.D. candidate, cultural foundations) — submitted the idea in the fall and were selected as one of 10 finalist teams. They are now competing for a chance to win up to $10,000 during the final project judging.

Flow chart
The competition asked student innovators to research a local news organization and come up with a new way for them to engage with the community. Finalists — including the Kent State team — then had three months to implement the idea in partnership with that news outlet.

The Kent State team partnered with The Land (https://www.thelandcle.org/), an online local news startup that reports on Cleveland’s neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs. The two-way communication channel they piloted is called “Ask The Land.” It’s a shift from the one-way, newsroom-to-audience approach that newsrooms typically take, says Shah.

“Our goal is to create a crowd-sourced, solutions journalism-based system that leverages text-messaging technology to empower underrepresented communities to shape local news coverage,” she said.

In doing so, Shah said the team hoped to help The Land realize three goals:

  1. Sourcing stories directly from communities at the grassroots level
  2. Providing local news coverage in a way that is easily accessible
  3. Providing community members with a place to ask questions and seek support

The flow chart in this article describes the team's process. They exceeded their expectations during the four-week pilot, Shah said, noting high engagement rates and more than 60 texts being submitted. The Land sourced four stories from these texts, including “It takes a village: Community Yahoos help Slavic Village cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.”  

That story is about a group of volunteers in Cleveland’s Slavic Village who volunteer in their community, from organizing safe trick-or-treating environments for children to helping fellow residents cover expenses in times of need.

Team member Johnson, a senior in the School of Media and Journalism, said in a Reynolds Journalism Institute press release that he got involved because he cares deeply about the journalism industry.

“As journalists, it's our responsibility to help people get the information they need to make critical decisions in their day-to-day lives,” he said in the release. “That is not a responsibility that I take lightly, and I want to put all of the skills and technological resources necessary to use to make sure the job is done right.”

The final virtual judging is set to take place on Friday, Feb. 26. Media and Journalism faculty members Professor Jacqueline Marino, Assistant Professor Abe Avnisan and Associate Professor Sue Zake advised the students on the project.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 1:25pm
UPDATED: Monday, March 22, 2021 - 4:05pm