Georgia’s First Lady, State DJJ Commissioner Attend Opening of New JJIE/Youth Today Office

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Georgia first lady Sandra Deal (left) speaks with Center for Sustainable Journalism executive director Leonard Witt at the opening of the CSJ's new offices.

On Wednesday, the Center for Sustainable Journalism, which publishes the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and Youth Today, celebrated the opening of its new Kennesaw, Ga. office in a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Georgia first lady Sandra Deal and Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles.

Initially founded in 2009 with the aid of a Harnisch Foundation grant, the Center for Sustainable Journalism (CSJ) began as a venue for experimenting with public affairs journalism” according to CSJ Executive Director Leonard Witt.

“Mainstream journalists are cutting back, no one is covering important issues,” he said. “Our important issue is juvenile justice.”

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) launched in 2010. Originally, Witt said, the site was intended to focus on Georgia juvenile justice-related news, but “lo and behold, there was a national interest in it.” Two years after the site went live, JJIE is attracting a quarter million visitors a year, tallying nearly 500,000 page views annually. The CSJ umbrella expanded further in 2012, when the organization acquired Youth Today, the nation’s premier trade magazine for youth service workers.

Now employing half a dozen full-time employees and numerous student workers and freelancers, Witt said that the center had quickly outgrown its former place of residency at Kennesaw State University’s Social Science Building.

The Center’s new home, a fully renovated warehouse space, was designed by Heery International’s Atlanta branch office.

“The main thing we started with was the actual methodology of the department itself and the basis that they were really keeping professional journalism as an honest profession,” said Heery International interior designer Lydia O’Neal.

Witt said the open design of the office reflected a new “digital era” in journalism, with an emphasis on giving people space to collaborate on projects.

Kennesaw state University President Daniel Papp said the opening of the new offices was a “hallmark” moment for both the CSJ and the university.

A free and open society needs a free, vibrant and open press, Papp said, “to shine a light on critical issues that are too often ignored and give a voice to the disenfranchised.

“The Center for Sustainable Journalism’s mission is to ensure that important public affairs journalism continues to have a place in our democracy as cuts and funding for mainstream media lead to less coverage of important issues, like juvenile justice,” Papp said.

Sandra Deal, wife of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, said the stories published by JJIE and Youth Today, could have major policy and systemic implications not only in Georgia, but also across the nation.

“You all are going to collect that information and disseminate it to people all over the United States so we can learn from best practices,” Deal said. “By sharing this information we improve the lives of all our children and that’s our goal in the first place.”

Georgia DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles said the dissemination of information regarding juvenile justice issues was similarly important.

“The more information we can put out there in the exchange … the more people are familiar with the issues that face the youth, that face the criminal justice system,” he said. “I think the more we can put out there, the better off we are.”

Witt believes the relocation ushers in a new era for the Center and its publications.

By partnering with the MacArthur Foundation, he said, the JJIE will soon become a more robust website which will include “deeper pathways to knowledge,” such as toolkits and research.

“I’ve always want to be the go-to place for juvenile justice and youth service,” Witt stated. “We’re going to have news now, [which] we’ve always had, and really great commentary from people like Judge Steve Teske and Michelle Barclay. And now, we’re going to have this deeper research.”

Top photo by James Swift | JJIE

Photo illustrations by ©2013/Rion Rizzo/Creative Sources Photography, Inc.

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