UNL receives New Voices grant for community news project

Released on 06/21/2010, at 12:30 PM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., June 21st, 2010 —

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications will create a news site about refugee communities in Lincoln as part of a grant it received to launch a community news project.

UNL is one of nine community news projects selected from across the United States as this year's New Voices grant winners announced by J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. UNL is eligible to receive $17,000 in the first year to launch its project and $8,000 in matching support in the second year. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program while J-Lab administers it at American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C.

"This year's winners presented striking analyses of the information needs in their communities," said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab. "All had plans to meet those needs with digital toolkits that involve mobile devices, social media and the Web."

Since the 1990s, when the federal government designated it a resettlement community, Lincoln has attracted a growing and diverse refugee population. In the Lincoln Public Schools, refugees or immigrants speak more than 40 languages and come from more than 50 nations.

Beginning in the fall, two classes will be involved in developing the project. An advertising class will explore the information needs of the communities, and a journalism class will focus on content, which also will be produced by members of the community. Students will work with mobile technology and Web design teams to develop the news initiative.

"Advertising students will help research the communities, and part of that research will be directed at discovering how best to reach those communities," said Amy Struthers, associate professor and head of the college's advertising sequence.

Giving voice to the refugee groups is an important part of the project, said Tim Anderson, associate professor and head of the journalism sequence.

"We thought it was important for our students to cover diverse populations and to put human faces on issues of immigration. These people are here, but they are, to a large extent, hidden," he said. "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."

This year's grant winners were selected from a competitive field of 284 applicants. Including the new grantees, a total of 55 community start-ups have been funded from 1,533 entries since 2005. Of the 46 projects that have already launched over the last five years, 30 are still going strong, five are working to launch or re-launch, and 11 did not continue after the two-year grant cycle.

The Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. The foundation focuses on projects that promote informed, engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network, the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, J-Learning.org, and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative.

Track the progress of Nebraska's project online at www.j-newvoices.org.

WRITER: Marilyn Hahn