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New Grants Will Help Journalism Programs Engage With Communities

The Online News Association has announced the first round of journalism programs to receive $35,000 “microgrants” as part of its 2014 Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. The challenge is a collaboration among the association, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Democracy Fund.

The money will be used to test live-news experiments designed to engage local communities and to revamp the programs’ curricula by promoting the teaching of digital innovation and the development of collaborative work models. Those goals were laid out in an open letter the association sent to university presidents in 2012.

Twelve universities were chosen in the competition’s first round. Among them was Arizona State University, which proposed an experiment to engage people on the issue of guns, especially those who don’t usually weigh in on those conversations. Using the Public Insight Network platform and Google Consumer Surveys, students plan to ask people to share stories that shaped their views on guns.

“Much of public-engagement journalism is done anecdotally. We hope to be able to show that this kind of journalism can not only change the stories that are told, it can shape people’s responses to those stories,” says the university’s proposal.

The City University of New York was selected for a project designed to engage the community, both in person and online, to help gauge the extent of the mold problem in New York’s public housing. The project aims to track the response of the New York City Housing Authority, the landlord of 400,000 low-income New Yorkers, to mold complaints.

The association plans to award up to $1-million in grants to 15 to 25 projects to be completed during the 2014-15 academic year. It said it was looking for projects that support the development of collaborative teaching, in which journalism students work with educators, professional journalists, researchers, and technicians to have an effect on communities and local news coverage.

The announcement also included 13 honorable mentions of other colleges and universities with impressive ideas, including American University, El Paso Community College, and Howard University. The association said it had received 125 applications for the first round of grants and will open up a second round of competition later this year.

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