Special to the Register
Eastern Kentucky University’s Department of Communication, AT&T and the Kentucky Press Association have partnered to improve the sustainability of rural journalism, especially within the University’s 22-county primary service region.
The EKU Digital Journalism Initiative (DJI), funded by a $25,000 contribution from AT&T, is a long-range initiative designed to explore the viability of applying mobile technology to deliver content produced by rural newspapers and to develop a working model for such an application.
The year-long project will involve three phases:
• A survey of current best practices of rural news organizations in applying mobile technologies to create, augment and disseminate news, and develop a working model that improves both audience reach and content richness. This phase will also address the reduced environmental impact and improved sustainability of capital and human resources.
• The development and implementation of a pilot program to test the model created in the first phase. Researchers will work with staff of The Eastern Progress, the University’s student-produced campus weekly, to apply the model. Progress staffers will explore and analyze specific approaches and processes for implementing online delivery of the newspaper and other content. This phase will include the development or use of a dedicated mobile application.
• A workshop for editors within EKU’s service region to present guidelines for applying the model.
“This is a new era in communication and news delivery,” said David McFaddin, AT&T regional director for external and legislative affairs. “AT&T looks forward to partnering with EKU, an institution that has long been a leader in moving journalism and communication forward, to help develop a model for converting traditional news outlets into next-generation media providers.
“In the communication industry we have seen an exponential growth in the number of mobile users and digital content in last few years,” McFaddin noted. “This has resulted in an everywhere-all-the-time expectation by consumers. The paradigm has shifted, and this partnership will provide guidance and direction to help news outlets in the service region and all across Kentucky to make this transition.”
KPA Executive Director David Thompson said the timing of the project “complements KPA’s own Digital Plan for Kentucky newspapers. As Eastern and AT&T are doing through this project, KPA is focused on assisting newspapers across the Commonwealth as they adapt to digital opportunities.”
DJI participants at EKU will include both faculty and students from the Department’s public relations and journalism disciplines.
The faculty research team consists of Dr.
Jim Gleason, assistant professor of public relations; Dr. Elizabeth Hansen, Foundation professor and chair of
the Department of Communication; Dr. Ginny Whitehouse, associate professor of journalism; and Dr. Deborah Givens, assistant professor of journalism.
“EKU’s Department of Communication views the DJI as a long-term program to support rural journalism in Eastern Kentucky and beyond,” said Gleason, who served as principal investigator for the project proposal. “Long-range plans include further research and development, as well as implementation of the working model by providing hands-on training with newspapers throughout EKU’s service area.
“Further, the DJI process, as well as the information and insights derived from it, will have a direct and positive effect on the educational environment in the Department of Communication through the active involvement of EKU faculty and students.”
State Sen. Jared Carpenter said the project “is a great example of how a public-private partnership has the potential to make a positive impact on our local communities. I commend AT&T and EKU for working together … to develop a creative and meaningful project that will change how news is delivered in the region.”
Likewise, State Rep. Rita Smart commended the parties for their leadership and partnership: “Technology has changed our world – where we get our information, how we consume that information, and when we want it. Helping our local news outlets develop the tools and proven strategies to meet those demands is critical to their future success.”
EKU’s Department of Communication is widely recognized for its emphasis on community and rural journalism. The required capstone class for journalism majors is Community Journalism. Under the leadership of Hansen and now Givens, the class has worked directly with Kentucky community newspapers since 1991 through community journalism research projects.
Hansen is the former head of the Community Journalism Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), and she chairs the Steering Committee/Academic Partners of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Givens is a former weekly newspaper owner, publisher and editor. Both have published and presented numerous articles and scholarly papers on community journalism.