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College of Media partners with Morgan State University to explore food justice in rural and urban communities

Rural Market

Journalism students at West Virginia University Reed College of Media and Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication partnered to investigate the inequities in food access in both urban Baltimore and rural West Virginia.

The experimental class was part of the College of Media’s Knight-funded Innovator-in-Residence program, which is designed to bring in industry experts to work with students on experimental projects that push the boundaries of traditional journalism.

John Ketchum, a social media producer for CNN, and Tricia Fulks Kelley an independent journalist and College alumna were the Fall 2016 Innovators-in-Residence. In addition, WVU Food Justice Fellow and Ph.D. candidate Joshua Lohnes provided context and subject matter expertise for the course.

In collaboration with faculty from WVU and MSU, Ketchum and Kelley worked with students to cover systems of food distribution and access, and to investigate the roles that government, corporations, local communities and individuals play within the food ecosystem.

“Through storytelling work I was doing for an organization out of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, I was able to become more familiar with the potential threats food insecurity has on science and society,” said Kelley. “Shining a light on themes of food security, and other social justice issues is so important. I’m happy that these students at WVU and MSU took them on. These aren’t the easiest stories to tell, but their impact can be great.”

Students, faculty and innovators met via Google Hangout each week to hear from industry experts and to work with their teams on reporting projects. In addition, they met in person and conducted three shared immersion-reporting trips to Baltimore, Morgantown, and Charleston, West Virginia. As students dug deeper into each other’s communities, they discovered commonalities around issues of food justice.

“In Baltimore, there is a whole bunch of people in one area with no food, and in West Virginia, ?everyone lives in separate areas, and there is one place for food,” said Morgan State senior Synclaire Cruel. “It’s the complete opposite, but we have the same issues.”

The project also harnessed the power of emerging social media platforms—using them as both a reporting and audience engagement tool.

The class produced a mobile app in partnership with the WVU Food Justice Lab to enable community members across the nation to provide data about their food access strategies and food security status.

“We wanted to use the class to experiment with different ways creators can connect with their audiences,” said Ketchum. “In order to do that, we pulled knowledge from other industry experts and tried some stuff on our own. I think right now as an industry, we need to think about what we’re making and who we’re serving when it comes to the content we produce.”

This is the second time West Virginia University has partnered with Morgan State University. In 2015, students and faculty collaborated to create Bridging Selma, a unique social justice reporting project to promote conversation about race in America.

Media professionals, researchers and community members interested in a behind the scenes look at this innovative investigative project are encouraged to attend a free public workshop on April 28 at the WVUMedia Innovation Center.

Participants will receive hands-on training in audience engagement, community data sourcing, and use of social media video by industry leaders from ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, NowThis and NPR.

The workshop is sponsored by Morgan State University School of Global Journalism, The Knight Foundation, The West Virginia Community Development Hub and the WVU Media Innovation Center.

Register online to reserve your spot today.