Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab Relaunches Online Poverty Reporting Toolkit

Cox Institute Journalism Innovation Lab Relaunches Online Poverty Reporting Toolkit

March 29, 2021
Cox Institute

Community, local and national journalists can turn to Covering Poverty for tips, tutorials, resources and inspiration to write and report on people and poverty-related matters.

The University of Georgia Journalism Innovation Lab, a student project of the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership, relaunched the updated website at a new url — — in late March.

A $7,500 grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation funded the plans to continue a Covering Poverty online initiative that began more than a decade ago.

A team of six journalism students under the direction of Lori Johnston (ABJ ’95, MFA ’17), a lecturer in the Department of Journalism, redesigned the site with a clean, modern layout and updated content, visuals and graphics.

The new stories, which feature multimedia storytelling, include guidance on word choice when reporting on inequality, tips for writing across difference and what to learn from poverty coverage during the pandemic.

Journalists need resources and tools to cover this topic, especially as the pandemic, 2020 election and social issues showed the importance of telling the stories accurately and with empathy. Visitors to the site will accumulate what they need to cover poverty now and in the future.

“Newsrooms have covered poverty, but now there’s more heightened awareness of language to describe people who are experiencing poverty and making sure that we cover it in a way that do not bring in assumptions or misconceptions,” Johnston said. “The vision is that this site is a go-to place for journalists, whether they’re working for a local newspaper or a national media outlet, when they face questions about how to cover poverty, seek examples or want to brainstorm story ideas.”

The site’s updated beat guides on health care, education, housing, and crime and mass incarceration provide questions to ask and spotlight databases, academic papers and studies, and institutions, centers and organizations that research the issues.

The team of students, who were nominated by journalism faculty and received Cox Innovation Fellowship scholarships for their participation in the program, included:

• Lillie Beck
• Kelsey Coffey
• Taylor Gerlach
• Sofia Gratas
• Shania Shelton
• Savannah Ware

Students said the lab’s empowering learning environment showed them how to create solutions-based, diverse reporting about poverty.

“I’ve learned so much about the importance of research and honest reporting. In my future career, I definitely will take the skills I’ve learned through this project to become a journalist who knows how to look between the lines and do the necessary research to tell important stories,” said Shelton, who will graduate in 2021.

Students curated award-winning reporting and data journalism projects as well as resources, such as books, podcasts and documentaries, to provide guidance and inspiration for reporters, visual journalists and editors who visit the site.

“I’ve been honored to help curate resources to help guide other journalists in making ethical decisions regarding a sensitive topic and encourage more inclusive, tactful coverage of our communities near and far,” said Gerlach, who will graduate in spring 2021.

The team discussed in conversations with Johnston and Dr. Keith Herndon, director of the Cox Institute, the importance of adding context in developing the online resource kit for journalists.

“Context allows us to see the dimensions of a story and not just what’s on the surface,” said Coffey, who graduated in fall 2020. “Working on this project has been one of my favorite experiences at the Grady College, and I’m looking forward to using some of the tools I learned in my future career.”

Since its inception in 2009, Covering Poverty has provided reporting resources to more than 500 journalists annually. The original Covering Poverty project was created with a grant awarded in 2008 by the University of Georgia Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, sponsored by the UGA Research Foundation.

John Greenman, professor of journalism, emeritus, and Diane Murray, director of alumni relations and outreach, directed the program. Upon Greenman’s retirement in 2015, Murray continued to direct the program. Carolyn Crist (ABJ 09, MA ’14) started with the project as an undergraduate honors student and later was administrator of the website.