New Grants Support Center for Sustainable Journalism’s Innovation, Growth

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Virtual World photo copy crop_0.story imageOnline News Association and Institute for Nonprofit News award $65,000 for new projects

KENNESAW, Ga.  — The Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University will launch projects to create virtual reality documentaries about youth in the juvenile justice system and customize membership services for audiences with the help of two new grants from the Online News Association and Institute for Nonprofit News.

The Center, which publishes the online Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) and Youth Today magazine, is among 11 winners of the Online News Association’s 2015 Challenge Fund for Innovation award. The $35,000 grant was announced today at the Journalism Interactive conference in Columbus, Mo. The fund is the brainchild of a collaborative that includes the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation, and is managed by ONA, the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

The grant funds the creation of virtual reality minidocumentaries about youth who are among the 50,000 annually involved in the Georgia juvenile justice system. The project, “Marginalized Youth Voices Amplified on Virtual Worlds,” will train 12 interdisciplinary student interns to work on “virtual world” platforms to learn the language and nuances of telling virtual reality stories.

“Newsrooms are only beginning to explore the potential in virtual reality storytelling,” said Leonard Witt, the Center’s executive director and the Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair of Communication at Kennesaw State. “We want our students to be ahead of the curve in this new realm of virtual story telling. By awarding this grant, the ONA is not only recognizing the need to teach these news tools, but also the potential they have to illuminate the issues of youth in the juvenile justice system.”

The CSJ also is a recipient of an INNovation Fund grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News, an award established with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to spur nonprofit newsrooms like the CSJ’s JJIE and Youth Today to undertake innovative projects to make their organizations more sustainable.

The $30,610 award will help CSJ launch a membership program tailored to the needs of JJIE’s and Youth Today’s audiences, which consists of youth service workers, policymakers, advocates, youth and parents. The Center will survey its audiences to find out which issues matter most to them. It will use the data to design webinars and newsletters that can be targeted to audience members based on their specific interests and needs. The data will also help CSJ identify potential categories to develop future membership opportunities. Erica Honeycutt, who specializes in development and grant writing for the CSJ, will spearhead the project.

“This is a model for growth that will be beneficial for CSJ, JJIE and Youth Today and our audiences,” Witt said.  “It will create a different source of revenue for us that will make our Center more sustainable while also giving back to our most loyal audience members.”

Kennesaw State University is the third-largest university in Georgia, offering more than 100 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees. A member of the University System of Georgia, Kennesaw State is a comprehensive university with more than 32,000 students from 130 countries. In January 2015, Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State University consolidated to create one of the 50 largest public universities in the country.

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