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Journalism Launches Project on Energy Use, Demographics

UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication has launched an experimental multimedia news Web site that explores U.S. energy use and its relationship to the country’s demographics.

“Powering a Nation” is Carolina’s contribution to the News21 project led by eight of 12 top journalism programs participating in the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami.

Ten Carolina journalism students selected as News21 fellows have been working since January with two faculty members–joined by two students from Harvard University and the University of Missouri–to produce stories about wind farms, the electrical grid, mountaintop removal, coal activists, biofuels, religious response to environmental issues and other topics.

The project includes interviews with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto; a Michigan pastor who organizes collaboration between scientists and evangelicals; coal miners and coal activists in Ohio; and families facing energy obstacles.

The stories are presented as feature articles, multimedia documentaries, motion graphics, blog posts and games. An interactive energy challenge game allows users to track their energy use and get personalized tips for conservation. Users can compare their energy profiles with others by using online social networks.

Students also are blogging and using a Twitter feed to document the process of the project and to reach targeted audiences for their stories.

“We want to provide transparency in the journalistic process as the stories unfold,” says News21 fellow Courtney Woo. “We invite our audiences to comment and engage with us as we tackle the complicated issues surrounding what it takes to power a nation.”

News21 is short for “News for the 21st Century: Incubators of New Ideas,” an effort to advance the U.S. news business by helping revitalize journalism schools and creating a stronger voice for them in the news industry. The project’s goal is to attract new and younger audiences with innovative reporting on issues.

“Changing demographics and energy use is a critical issue in North Carolina and the nation,” says Jean Folkerts, dean of the school. “And it is a topic through which we can showcase the innovative journalistic techniques we’re teaching at the school. I think we distinguish ourselves at Carolina by preparing our students to complete all aspects of this kind of project, including the advanced levels of design and programming required for interactivity and audience participation in the site.

“The project has an enormous impact on the school. Students and faculty who are specialists in broadcast, digital media, print and photography are working together in a single newsroom to focus on a serious issue for the country,” Folkerts said. “We welcome mainstream media to use the content, or build on it, to deliver important energy information to a larger population.”

Eight of the News21 fellows graduated last spring or this summer. New fellows will be chosen in the fall to expand on the “Powering a Nation” concept, and students in a marketing course will design marketing plans to be implemented next year. Carolina will host incubators through 2011.

The school, which this year is launching a new curriculum that takes into account significant changes in the media industry, will expand on this collaborative approach in the fall semester with students and faculty in various classes working together to produce a news Web site.


The Carolina Alumni Review‘s September/October issue will include an indepth feature on journalism at Carolina and the steps that are being taken in teaching in response to changes in the industry. The September/October issue is scheduled to be available online on Sept. 10; print copies should reach readers beginning about Sept. 15. The Review is a benefit of membership in the GAA.


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