Online Community Engagement Plan


490 ST Class and Assignment Background

This online community engagement analysis and plan for CU-Citizen-Access was created as part of the Summer 2011 LIS490ST – Community Informatics Studio class at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois.

The class was run on a studio pedagogy model, in collaboration with the Department of Journalism, CU-Citizen-Access, and a variety of community partners in Champaign-Urbana and East St. Louis, IL.

The class sought to investigate the emerging phenomenon of online Community Media, to see what fruitful connections might be found between it and library and information science, citizen journalism, digital storytelling, community informatics, community engagement and a variety of other related fields and practices.

The other students in the class worked on community engagement projects. They partnered with community organizations who were interested in playing host to a Community Media Newsroom, and in teaching and learning the skills and building the capacities necessary to do so. They helped to create curriculum, plan activities, teach classes, and otherwise lay the groundwork for future citizen journalists and Community Media Newsrooms in the partner communities and organizations.

Due to a family emergency, the author was forced to suspend participation in the course midway through. This online engagement study was conceived both as an alternative way of completing the course requirements, and as a complementary product to the engagement and research work done by the rest of the class.

CU-Citizen-Access Background

The author worked with CUCA for the first half of the course, and in doing so gained familiarity with its mission, past work, and current community engagement and community journalism efforts.

CUCA was founded in 2010, as a partnership between the University of Illinois Journalism Department, Illinois Public Media, The Champaign News-Gazette, and Hoy Chicago. With funding from the Marajen Stevick Foundation and the University of Illinois and a matching grant from the John S. Knight and James L. Knight Foundation, CUCA set out to do community-based journalism primarily in an online medium, with a focus on issues related to poverty in East Central Illinois.

Neighborhood / Community Background

At the time of the course in Summer of 2011, C-U-Citizen-Access reporter Pam Dempsey was working to establish relationships with four community organizations in key neighborhoods in Champaign: the Joann Dorsey Homes, Salem Baptist Church, Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park, and Salt and Light Ministry. She did this by keeping regular office hours at the public computing / community centers hosted by each, and acting as a working beat reporter, trying to cultivate sources and seek out stories.

The original goal of these efforts was to stimulate community interest in journalism and in CUCA, with the hope of recruiting working citizen journalists to contribute stories to the site. The work evolved over time into reporting combined with capacity building, with Dempsey running classes and workshops to teach basic digital skills, while also reporting on stories of interest to the communities she partnered with.

The class members were charged with building upon Dempsey’s work, with a view towards establishing the sites as collaborative Community Media Centers with community members working in partnership with CUCA reporters to create original reporting about their lives and issues of concern to them.

Existing Web and Social Media Presence

The primary publication of CU-Citizen-Access is

The website is a Drupal-based community site, and is home to all of the original reporting created by CUCA reporters and community partners, as well as forums for community participation and discussion, and substantial social media integration.

As of Summer 2011, most of the site’s content was being created by CUCA journalists and students in the University of Ilinois Journalism Program, and the site presented as primarily a community-focused traditional journalism outlet, with innovative uses of digital media in the areas of data, mapping, and mashups. However, efforts were underway to foster more of a collaborative process and invite community members to participate and contribute tips, stories, and commentary. These efforts were based around the topic-based and neighborhood-based forums, as well as increased use of social media for outreach and publicity.

CUCA has a robust social media presence. Twitter is the most active channel and is used as the conduit for mobile and SMS contact with users, but Facebook, YouTube, StumbleUpon, Digg, and SeeClickFix are also featured on the site and used with varying degrees of intensity. CUCA reporters also use Twitter individually to communicate with the community and gather information for stories.

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