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WVU and OU partner for women’s incarceration investigative journalism project

Women's Incarceration Project

Big 12 rivals West Virginia University and the University of Oklahoma may compete on the football field, but they’re collaborating in the classroom to help solve a national problem impacting both of their states disproportionately. 

West Virginia and Oklahoma have the highest percentage of women behind bars, outranking every other state and every other country in the world, according to the Prison Policy Institute’s 2015 Report.

In its 2018 study, the Institute found that the number of women in state prisons nationwide has grown at over twice the pace of men since 1978.

Beginning this fall, students at WVU’s Reed College of Media and the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication will address this problem in a shared reporting and advocacy communications project.

The two programs recently received a $170,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to engage students across disciplines in a two-year effort to document the problem of women’s incarceration, offer evidence-based solutions and create awareness that could lead to changes in policy and practice.

The WVU-OU team will take a solutions-based approach to their reporting. This model, created by the Solutions Journalism Network, seeks to rebalance the news through rigorous reporting of both problems and their solutions.

“This solutions-oriented media approach will create more awareness and advance the public’s understanding of an important issue that impacts both of our states,” said Maryanne Reed, dean of the WVU Reed College of Media. “These kinds of projects allow students and faculty to pursue their creative passions while working for a purpose, a principle that informs everything we do in the college.” 

The journalism component of the project will include multimedia news stories, documentary work, data visualization, community engagement, and social distribution. Students will travel together to locations in both states and elsewhere during immersion reporting trips and will attend classes together via distance technology. The resulting reporting project will be distributed in collaboration with regional publishing partners in Oklahoma and West Virginia, as well as nationally.

The project will also engage at least one shared “Professional-in-Residence” from a credible journalism outlet to provide topical expertise and collaborate on the project through both a virtual and physical residency. These professionals will guide students’ efforts, serve as a bridge between the two schools, and help students engage in a national dialogue on the topic. 

“The foundation of this unique partnership is experiential learning that will greatly benefit the students who participate,” said Ed Kelley, dean of the Gaylord College. “We at OU are excited about working with our friends in Morgantown and are greatly appreciative of the opportunity to do so thanks to the generosity of the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.”

In addition to having a strong journalism focus, the project will also engage advertising and public relations students to develop messaging and campaigns that will further raise public awareness and advocate for change. As part of that effort, students will engage with influencers such as politicians and policy makers, scholars, activists and community leaders.

The Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation was founded in 1982 by Edith Kinney Gaylord. The foundation’s mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information.