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College of Media receives grant for water journalism project

Inspired by the desire for more transparent information about West Virginia’s water sources, the West Virginia University Reed College of Media is undertaking a new journalism project supported by a grant from the Online News Association.

ONA

The $35,000 micro-grant is part of ONA’s competitive Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education in 2014 to encourage journalism programs to experiment with new ways of providing news and information and to seed collaborative news experiments in living labs – their communities.

As part of this challenge next fall, the College of Media will launch “Stream Lab,” a community reporting project through which students and faculty will experiment with using sensors and proximity beacons to increase public engagement around contaminated water issues.

Partnering with WVU water researchers, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, The Charleston Gazette and noted sensor expert John Keefe of the WNYC Data News Team, “Stream Lab” team members will test new practices in journalistic storytelling using collaboratively sourced water-quality data.

Sensors will be placed in public waterways in Morgantown and possibly other areas around the state where students and community members will have the opportunity to access sensor readings of real-time water quality parameters and to enter additional data and personal observations through a mobile app.

“This project gives our students and faculty valuable hands-on experience in using new technologies for investigative reporting about water quality in the state,” said Assistant Professor Dana Coester, who co-authored the grant with Teaching Assistant Professor Emily Corio.

“We want to engage the public in this experimental reporting project to see if a hands-on, transparent approach to collecting data creates a sense of ownership and agency about our waterways among community members,” Corio said.

Students will then use that information, along with government-supplied data to conduct field reporting on sources of pollution, examine economic and regulatory issues and illuminate possible inconsistencies between community-sourced data and official sources.

“Another exciting possibility for this project is that as data is collected we can make it available to the public in real time,” Coester said. “We hope to create a new kind of streaming documentary about the state’s water quality.”

The project will kick off in the fall semester with an interdisciplinary team that includes College of Media faculty, as well as faculty from the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. The College also is engaging John Keefe, senior editor for data news and journalism technology at WNYC New York Public Radio. Media partners include The Charleston Gazette and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The Challenge Fund is the brainchild of a collaborative that includes the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation, and is managed by ONA, the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

The 53 entries competing for $385K for the 2015-16 academic year were judged on their ability to create collaborative, student-produced local news coverage, bridge the professor-professional gap, use innovative techniques and technologies and learn from digital-age news experiments. Winning teams included some combination of students, researchers, media professionals, educators, developers and designers.

“This year’s winners were finely focused on partnerships and impact, using creative but realistic tools and ideas that will move local journalism forward in their communities,” said Irving Washington, ONA deputy director, who administered the selection process.

Read more about the College of Media’s project about all the Challenge Fund winners on the ONA website. For more information on the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University, visit http://reedcollegeofmedia.wvu.edu.

The ONA award was made through the WVU Foundation in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $1 billion fundraising effort runs through December 2017.

ONA is the world’s largest association of digital journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public. The membership includes news writers, producers, designers, editors, bloggers, developers, photographers, educators, students and others who produce news for and support digital delivery systems. ONA also hosts the annual Online News Association conference and administers the Online Journalism Awards.

Read the official release at WVU Today.