Allison Frisch, assistant professor in the journalism department at Ithaca College, co-authored an article that won first place in the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) “Strengthening Community Journalism” article competition.
Frisch worked with Gina Gayle, assistant professor of visual and multimedia storytelling at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, to write the article., which was presented in July at the ISWNE conference in Lexington, Kentucky. The article focused on funding collaboration between colleges and communities to strengthen community journalism and will be published in ISWNE’s Fall 2022 edition of the Basic editor.
Contributing writer Ryan Johnson spoke with Frisch about the background research for the article, her background in community journalism, and additional research she could do.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ryan Johnson: Could you explain the core research and conclusions of your article?
Allison Frisch: This article is part of a series of articles we plan to do to look at different ways students can collaborate with local news media or replace local news media where there are news deserts, meaning there are no local newspapers or news websites. This article has looked specifically at college-community collaborations as, in a way, centers of journalism. We interviewed six people to look specifically at how you fund these centers at a college and what the challenges are to all of this and keeping the funding there. The fundamental discovery, really, was that you need a variety of funding sources, small, from local funding sources to maybe bigger foundations and you also have a challenge when you have student journalists, because they should be paid what they are worth and they are not there all year round. There are still challenges to overcome, but there are also solutions.
RJ: What inspired you and Gayle to choose this subject?
A F: We are both former journalists and both have worked in community news. She is a visual journalist, photographer. I was a journalist, then an editor, then I managed local newsrooms. We [both] watched our local newsrooms run out of money or get taken over by big hedge fund companies, and it broke our hearts. Dr. Gayle went to Syracuse University in Newhouse and earned his Ph.D., and I went to Rochester Institute of Technology and got a graduate degree, Masters of Business Administration. We both wanted to get into an academic setting and try to find solutions not only for student journalists and early career journalists, but also for local news. We were both chosen as Innovation Fellows at the Arizona State Cronkite School of Journalism in 2019. We met on this fellowship and were very excited to talk about opportunities for student journalists in fill that gap where local news is lacking.
RJ: How did you feel when you won the ISWNE competition?
A F: I was super excited. The contest is to strengthen community news, and that’s why I decided to come and teach, because I think a new generation of journalists will strengthen community information. I feel like [winning] was a validation that said, you know, you’re onto something here, that might be a solution.
RJ: Can we do anything as citizens to elevate community journalism?
A F: Support him when we can, not everyone can afford to pay him when he’s behind a paywall. So, that means only people with a good amount of money can afford it. I think that by reading it as much as possible, [or] interacting with local journalists [or] helping them as sources and sharing [their] social media stories. I would never suggest that citizens who can’t afford it should find a way to pay to support it, which is why I think we need new funding models for community journalism, so that it’s not just a for-profit business.
RJ: What’s next for you? Will you continue to focus on community journalism or maybe take up another topic?
A F: Yes, I will continue to focus on community journalism. Right now, you know, we looked at those collaborations and when we presented the paper, the editors and the researchers said [they] really want [us] to dive a little deeper into financing and find all the financing options and see how they work. That’s what we look at next, we look at funding. We will also write research papers on, you know, the students themselves. We’ll be interviewing student journalists, we’ll be interviewing funders, and I think by bringing together academics, funders, student journalists, and news agencies, we can get the full picture of what’s possible.