Cox Institute adds new directors, initiatives to benefit students and industry

A new organizational and leadership structure will expand the training mission of the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership.

The Cox Institute, which operates as a unit of the Journalism Department at the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will offer expanded skills development and training opportunities programs for students and professionals through the newly-restructured Journalism Innovation Lab and Journalism Writing Lab.

The Cox Institute’s Journalism Innovation Lab will assume operation of the Digital Natives program, which brings UGA journalism students with digital news expertise into Georgia newsrooms to help local journalists and news organizations accomplish specific digital goals.  This program was launched by Dr. Amanda Bright, a member of the journalism faculty, who will continue to manage this project along with other digital innovation initiatives to develop the products, practices and people of journalism’s future in a new role as Director of the Journalism Innovation Lab.

“I’m thrilled to be able to create a space where students and professionals can collaborate and innovate toward the next iteration of journalism,” Bright said. “The Journalism Innovation Lab will be committed to encouraging students to think boldly about where our industry should go next, while meeting specific needs in the field to serve our audiences and a functioning democracy.”

The Cox Institute’s Journalism Writing Lab will expand its scope by operating the Covering Poverty project, which was relaunched earlier this year by students funded through a Scripps Howard Foundation grant. This fall, the project will recruit a new group of students and alumni to work in partnership with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Athens Banner-Herald.  Lori Johnston (ABJ ’95, MFA ’17), a lecturer in the Journalism Department who oversaw the relaunch of Covering Poverty, will become Director of the Journalism Writing Lab. She will continue to manage the Covering Poverty project along with other content initiatives.

“I am thankful to the Cox Institute for being forward-thinking and for the relationships we have established with these important media outlets, and others to come,” Johnston said. “I look forward to guiding students as they report, write and produce meaningful stories about issues, people and places. They will deepen their reporting abilities and delve into the craft of storytelling and service journalism to help newsrooms tell these stories now, and then take those newfound skills into their careers.”

In addition to the new structure and projects housed in the Journalism Innovation Lab and the Journalism Writing Lab, the Cox Institute will continue to provide students with leadership training opportunities through initiatives such as the Levin Leaders Program and skills development opportunities through a variety of fellowship programs.

“We are enhancing the core of what the Cox Institute has built over three decades to make our programs an even more integral part of the journalism education our students receive,” said Dr. Keith Herndon (ABJ ’82), whose title will change from director to executive director of the Cox Institute as part of the new leadership structure. “Adding two respected colleagues in Amanda Bright and Lori Johnston to our leadership is a win for the Cox Institute and for the students we serve.”

The Cox Institute was established in 1990 by the late Conrad Fink, a legendary journalism professor, as the Cox Institute for Newspaper Management Studies. Its current name was adopted in 2014 to reflect the news media’s digital transformation. The Institute honors the late James M. Cox Jr., who headed Cox Enterprises and Cox Broadcasting Corporation from 1957 until 1974. Its primary funding is from the Jim Cox Jr. Foundation.

Faculty Profile: Amanda Bright

Amanda Bright has always wanted to make an impact on her community, but over the years the impact—and the community—have expanded.

“I have always craved to have more impact,” Bright said. “I want to change people’s lives in a tangible way, and I want to do something to forward my community and not just be in my community.”

It’s for this reason that Bright started out as a community journalist, pivoted to teaching community college and high school journalism classes and now teaches digital journalism at Grady College.

Bright explained further: “Journalism and education—these are my two halves—and I am fortuitously positioned in this moment because I love the intersection of these two subjects. I think, legitimately, what’s going to make our society progress is an intentional focus on how to improve both of these areas and how they intersect.”

One way Bright is moving the communities of Grady College and UGA forward is by channeling her passions into classes that teach students multiplatform journalism, digital design, storytelling and how to be part of the solution.

“Part of my draw to solutions journalism is that idea that we should not just be about reporting all the problems, but also rigorously reporting on what people are trying to do to solve those problems and whether or not it’s working.”

She also teaches students, both journalism majors and non-majors, how to be digital citizens through classes like “Media Savvy: Becoming Digitally Literate.” Diving into topical issues like misinformation, filter bubbles and conformation bias, Bright teaches her students where to find accurate information and how to process it in an ethical, responsible way.

Bright was hired to not only teach but to also bring coherence to the various products of Grady Newsource, the capstone class for journalism majors, along with reporting from various other courses and programs. Bright used her vast knowledge of website design to direct the overhaul of the Grady Newsource website, social media accounts, digital newsletters featuring the week’s top stories and a soon-to-be released app that was created in conjunction with the college’s New Media Institute. The goals are to educate the capstone students in multiplatform reporting and also to invite the community to engage more with Grady Newsource.

“I am so invigorated that we have this space with Grady Newsource and we have new students every semester that have ideas and are willing to try new things,” Bright explains. “There is nothing more exciting than a blank check to innovate. That’s what keeps me going.”

Professor Amanda Bright talks with a student in the Grady NewSource studio.

Bright, who was named Journalism Teacher of the Year last year at Grady College, has made a big impact in a short time not only on the student community but also in the Georgia newspaper community, too. Earlier this year she directed the inaugural group of Digital Natives, an outreach project with the Georgia Press Association. The project paired student journalists with community newspapers to tackle specific digital goals. The students helped the newsrooms with projects like setting up Facebook and Instagram accounts to report news, incorporating infographics and video into news content and teaching how Google analytics can inform website decisions. The program was highly lauded by all involved and plans for the second year are already in motion.

It’s projects like Digital Natives that give Bright satisfaction she is in the right place at the right time bridging journalism and education.

“Journalism as a vocation is one of the most important things we can do,” Bright concludes. “It helps communities locally and globally ­. Its purpose of informing people so they can make good decisions is so mission driven, and training the next generation of journalists is important work. I cannot think of a better way to spend my time.”


Editor’s Note: This article was written for UGA News and can be found on the UGA News website.

 

New program brings journalism students, Georgia newsrooms together to achieve digital goals

When initial discussions began about creating a new program called Digital Natives at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t factored into its launch. Despite the unforeseen challenge, program director and academic professional Amanda Bright and eight students jumped into action.

Digital Natives was developed in conjunction with the Georgia Press Association. The program pairs UGA journalism students with local GPA member newsrooms to help them accomplish a specific digital goal, from improving social media to experimenting with video production. 

“Once I heard about the program I was absolutely in,” Bright said. “I know that [newsrooms] need that support, and who better to give that to them than boundless energy college students?”

For 2021, eight students were selected through an application process that highlighted their abilities and interest in community journalism. The newsrooms also completed an application that determined their digital needs, willingness to work with the students and ability to follow through on what they learned. Students were matched with news organizations based on how well their skill sets would meet the newsroom’s needs.

The students spent a month preparing for an intensive week with their newsrooms. They consulted with editors and publishers about their digital goals and prepared a community audit that covered demographics, economic outlook, government, local competition and an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 

Starting on Jan. 4, they implemented their weeklong plans to teach the newsrooms using guided practice, feedback and independent practice resources that they made themselves.

The students created synchronous and asynchronous video tutorials, how-to guides and presentations to explain how to get the most out of digital tools like Instagram and Facebook and develop strategies for optimal use based on the newsroom’s goals.

Senior Alexander Merritt worked with his newsroom, Hometown Headlines, to design infographics to embed in their digital content.

Fourth year Alexander Merritt said Grady Newsource prepared him to confidently work with Rome-based Hometown Headlines editor John Druckenmiller.

Merritt and Druckenmiller worked together to include more infographics in daily content, learn to manage and track a Google analytics page for the website and make a YouTube channel.

“Everyone’s thinking of the CNNs and the Wall Street Journals, you know those kinds of big name jobs, but we forget to understand that local journalism is just as important and those jobs are still good jobs,” Merritt said.

The program is designed to enrich the learning experience for both the students and newsrooms, and that sentiment was especially clear for third-year student Livia Geiger. Geiger’s parents own The Herald Gazette in Barnesville, and even though Geiger is a marketing major in the Terry College of Business, she was able to work with her parents’ newsroom.

“My parents kept referring to themselves as ‘dinosaurs’ and they truly didn’t know anything about Instagram,” Geiger said. “I had to create a Google Drive for them and show them how to post on Instagram. I also was able to level with my parents more because I didn’t have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes.” 

Kate Hester, a fourth-year student from Monroe, Georgia, said the most rewarding part of the program was looking at the Instagram page of her newsroom, The Hartwell Sun, before and after she arrived. By the end of the week, they were implementing what she recommended. 

“It’s nice that both parties got a new perspective,” Hester said. “When you’re teaching someone else, that’s the best way to learn. I realized how much I really did know about my field and what I needed to improve on in my field.”

The feedback from the newsrooms and the GPA was extremely positive. 

“On behalf of the GPA Board and the Georgia Press Educational Foundation Trustees, yes, a truly amazing report and program. We owe a huge thanks to the Dean for spearheading it and to Amanda for taking it and running with it,” GPA Executive Director Robin Rhodes said.

Bright remains optimistic with Digital Natives’ success and growth in a post-COVID-19 environment. 

“I hope one of the outcomes is that more students decide intentionally to do local journalism,” Bright said. “We have now an established understanding that local news is imperative and crucial and it also needs assistance.”

Grady Digital Natives was modeled off a similar endeavor called Potter Ambassadors at the University of Missouri, where Charles Davis was a professor before becoming dean of Grady College.

If member GPA newsrooms have any questions about the application for the 2022 program, please email Amanda Bright at amanda.bright@uga.edu.

Editor’s Note: This feature was written by Megan Mittelhammer, a 2021 Yarbrough Fellow in the Grady College Department of Communication. She was also a participant in the Digital Natives program.

New class teaches digital literacy tools to combat information disorder

A new Grady College course is equipping students with skills needed to discern between truth and misinformation when consuming digital media.

“Media Savvy: Becoming Digitally Literate” is an online summer class taught by Amanda Bright, academic professional in journalism.

“Current events are creating this course,” Bright said. “Although misinformation is hardly new, the current trends with media manipulation are sophisticated, which means we must become more media savvy.”

The course is a real-time case study as much of the discussion revolves around the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 elections and nationwide protests about race and inequality.

“We are in a moment where this misinformation conversation is not just useful but essential,” Bright said.

Amanda Bright teaches the course. She was the 2019 journalism teacher of the year.

The first words of the course syllabus are: “Clickbait. Deepfakes. Disinformation, Bias, Hoaxes. Fake News.,” giving the 25 enrolled students an immediate glimpse at the subjects examined in the class.

Bright refers to digital literacy as the tools needed to distinguish truth amid information disorder.

“If people do not have correct information, they cannot make correct decisions,” said Bright.

Students are becoming familiar with resources designed to help journalists earn trust such as First Draft and Trusting News, both organizations with prior partnerships with Grady College. The course introduces terminology, context, tools and techniques to develop media literacy and understand the role of journalism in society.

“Hopefully by the end of this class, I hope you can feel like you can have constructive conversations with the people in your life that you may feel like are off-base on this topic,” Bright tells her students in the class’ introductory video.

Many Grady College alumni volunteered their knowledge and time to help students in the class. Meredith Anderson (ABJ ’01) from WRDW, Ivan Aronin (ABJ ’86) from Main Strett News, Chase Cain (ABJ ’05) from NBCLX, Lisa Fu (AB ’17) from FundFire, Daniel Funke (ABJ ’17) from PolitiFact, Randi Hildreth (ABJ ’12) from WBRC, Linda Hurtado (ABJ ’89) from WTVT, Robert Hydrick (ABJ ’84) from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety  Stephanie Gallman Jordan (ABJ ’02) from CNN, Joshua Ninke (ABJ ’11) from KBTX, Maddie Ray (AB ’19) from WXIA, Casey Rose (AB ’09) from WHAS, Kelsey Russo (ABJ ’19) from The Athletic, Sheeka Sanahori (ABJ ’06) from Lonely Planet, Sydney Shadrix (MA ’19) from KLTV all offered to be interviewed by students. Each student is paired with a professional to have a wide-ranging conversation about how journalists fact-check and build trust with audiences.

After being equipped with digital literacy skills, students are charged with analyzing a digital media content for their final project. They are asked to explain their findings, recommend steps to improve understanding for the audience and predict what should happen next in digital media verification.