Journalism Innovation Lab Fellows complete work-based projects

Listening to audiences, engaging younger users and creating brand cohesion — these were goals UGA journalism majors accomplished during the launch of our innovation teams and fellowship programs.

These Journalism Innovation Teams and Fellows, based out of the Journalism Innovation Lab of the Cox Institute, create industry partnerships to bring emerging ideas and practices into Georgia news organizations by allowing select students to work at a precise and strategic level on innovation in today’s newsrooms.

Georgia Association of Broadcasters Innovation Fellow

Funded by the GAB, our innovation fellow worked with Habersham Broadcasting. This locally owned and operated set of two radio stations — My Country 99.3 and 107.7 the Breeze — serves a large audience in northeast Georgia, and its leadership wanted to begin to reach a younger demographic through its digital products. UGA journalism major Ashley Balsavias worked with Habersham to grow and engage younger listeners through the My Country 99.3 Instagram page, creating strategies for that platform, cross-promoting to the station’s app, and creating a best practices guide for future use.

Georgia Association of Broadcasters Innovation Team

A team of journalism majors — Victoria Gospodinov, Lily Baldwin and Haley Roberson — worked with Salem Media Group of Atlanta for our GAB-funded innovation team. Operating on the goals of increasing engagement and growing audience demographics, the team did audience research, created a robust brand style guide to improve digital product coherence, and crafted a forward-thinking content strategy for influencers, concepts and campaigns to continue diverse growth in both listeners and digital platforms.

UX Research Innovation Team with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The success of the Unapologetically ATL email newsletter, a product of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was the focus of study for a UX research innovation team made up of journalism seniors Maddy Franklin, Ally Gray, Nimra Ahmad and Yana Obiekwe. Through analytics, quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews with audience members, the team found what specific elements were contributing to the newletter’s strong performance, so that these could be employed with other digital products. Also, a few future recommendations for growth were presented to capitalize on what audiences prefer in the niche news product.

The Journalism Innovation Lab will build another GAB Innovation Team and pair another GAB Innovation Fellow with a Georgia broadcaster in the fall 2022 semester, as well as participate in the Reynolds Journalism Institute Student Innovation Competition. Contact Dr. Amanda Bright or see Handshake for details on how to apply starting in late summer.


Journalism Innovation Lab Team finishes in top six in nationwide competition

The first-ever Journalism Innovation Lab Team from the Cox Institute of Innovation, Management and Leadership finished in the top six teams in the nation, out of more than 50, in the 2022 Reynolds Journalism Institution Student Innovation Competition.

Team members Sophia Haynes, Cassidy Hettesheimer and Gabby Vitali, all journalism majors, created and tested a product called j-notes, which improves news literacy and relationships between audiences and journalists by lifting the veil on how reporters make decisions and cover stories. This web-based design allows for short-form, embedded videos from the journalists themselves that walk the audience through how a story was covered and why — to increase trust in the news.

“The journalists can explain why they decided to write something a certain way, how they found a piece of information, or show a video from the field,” the team said in their presentation. “The goal of j-notes is to build connections with journalists, increase transparency, and help audience members feel confident in knowing what to look for in trustworthy journalism.”

Screenshot of the news literacy tool j-notes in action.
j-notes consists of short-form, embedded videos that allow the journalist to speak directly with the audience.

The team started in fall 2021 with the creation of this research-based concept. Then, they developed a wireframe and made a brief presentation for RJI judges, who moved their team to the second round, where they built the product and tested it with audience members through in-depth, qualitative interviews. Then, the team created a final presentation for a panel of judges.

WATCH: View the final presentation for the UGA Journalism Innovation Lab Team:

On March 21, the UGA team was one of the top six finalists for an awards ceremony, which also included teams from the University of Oregon, University of Missouri, Ohio University, University of Florida and Purdue University-Fort Wayne. University of Florida took the top prize, which was $10,000.

Even though the UGA team didn’t place in the top spot, Vitali said she gained experience she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

“It was amazing to work with others with the same goal in mind and to bounce our ideas off each other in a productive way,” Vitali said.

According to Cassidy Hettesheimer, the process wasn’t without its challenges, but was ultimately rewarding.

“The process of brainstorming, creating and gathering feedback pushed us to be creative, collaborative and decisive,” Hettesheimer said. “I learned a ton participating in the RJI Student Innovation competition that will hopefully help shape how my teammates and I look at journalism in the future.”

Sophia Haynes said she had an eye to the future of journalism as well, as she did research and the wire-framing process in creating J-Notes, which she believes has a real application in news organizations.

“Hopefully, this idea doesn’t just stop here,” Haynes said. “I love the concept of short-form videos to engage readers in stories and to answer potential questions that may arise while reading.”

Dr. Amanda Bright, director of the Journalism Innovation Lab, said she could not be more proud of the team and what it accomplished in this first-ever endeavor.

“Our three team members were thoughtful, reflective and so professional throughout the process — from the conception of the idea through to the final presentation,” Bright said. “They truly created a product that would be a benefit to any newsroom to create stronger ties and trust between journalists and audiences.”

Bright said the Journalism Innovation Lab plans to create another team and enter the RJI competition again next year.

Cox Institute celebrates dedication of office and journalism innovation lab

Grady College faculty, students, friends and industry partners gathered Sept. 29, 2016, to dedicate the office and journalism innovation lab of the The James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership.

“It is always a great day at Grady when we can come together and celebrate another milestone in the evolution of our college,” Dean Charles Davis said. “The Cox Institute has been a virtual organization recognized for its programs, but lacking a physical space. Today, we rectify that by dedicating a facility that will be used to train Grady’s students in the art and science of entrepreneurial journalism and media leadership.”

Located inside Studio 100 on the first floor of the journalism building, the office and journalism innovation lab provide space for the growing list of programs and activities the Cox Institute hosts throughout the year.

This video about the Cox Institute was produced by student Mollie Simon
and debuted during the dedication ceremony.

University of Georgia Provost Pamela Whitten spoke at the dedication, noting the transformation of the space.

“About three years ago, your dean walked me into some very dark unused space that happens to be right here and said, ‘Doesn’t it make sense for this to be space assigned to the Grady College? I promise we will use it in ways that will benefit students,’” Whitten said. “It is really a pleasure today to see what you have done with the space.”

Whitten also commended Grady Colelge on its dedication to experiential learning opportunities.

“This college has jumped with more enthusiasm, or at least as much as any other, on our deep commitment to privileging the experience of the undergraduate students at the University of Georgia and recognizing that in 2016, so much valuable learning happens outside of the classroom,” Whitten said.

Keith Herndon, director of the Cox Institute, emphasized the institute’s goal of bringing industry and academia together.

“The Cox Institute plans on working with media companies all across the country, but we are doubling down in Georgia where there is such a hotbed of media activity,” Herndon said. “We want to make sure we have close ties to industry and have their input on the skills and training that students need.”

During the dedication, Herndon announced a new partnership with the Atlanta Press Club. The Cox Institute will be the presenting partner in the organization’s annual awards of excellence.

Herndon and Davis thanked individuals and sponsors who support the work of the Cox Institute, including the Jim Cox Jr. Foundation, which was represented at the dedication by Larry Hooks, an Atlanta attorney.

Consumer journalist Bob Sullivan also was recognized for his contributions to the institute’s growth.

“Bob joined our board of advisors two years ago and has been a fountain of ideas and connections for us,” Herndon said.

In 2013, Sullivan was a reporter for NBC’s In Plain Sight: Poverty in America documentary, which won a Peabody Award. At the time, Sullivan received a certificate for his work on the team. At the dedication ceremony, he was given the mounted medallion version of his Peabody to thank him for his work with the Cox Institute.

“Institutes like ours only prosper and grow when we have industry professionals who believe so strongly in our mission like Bob does,” Herndon said.