Website takes on poverty, diversity and the environment

4/28/2008 - By: Zanny Marsh

Reynolds School of Journalism graduate students are using interactive journalism to explore compelling cultural, economic and social issues on the online community site, www.OurTahoe.org. The site helps students gain experience developing, delivering and participating in innovative journalism while encouraging users to think critically about the future of Lake Tahoe — one of the region’s most precious resources.

“It has astounded me that no one wants to talk about poverty at Tahoe. I know the word ‘poor’ and poverty can cause shame, but keeping the poor invisible doesn’t help their cause,” said Liz Margerum, a Reno Gazette-Journal photojournalist and University journalism graduate student. “My aim [with my project on the Web site] is to tell a story of the ups and downs of being poor in a place where the wealthy come to play and live. The economy depends on the working class. What would happen if they left?”

Margerum and her fellow students are asking themselves and other users pointed questions about poverty, the influence of Latinos and Hispanics on the Lake Tahoe-area economy, and about efforts to make Lake Tahoe better.

In 2006, the degree program’s student cohort worked with faculty to design the site and develop experimental journalism projects on issues of fire, community networks and interactivity.

Within the framework of the program’s original mission of environmental journalism, graduate students in the second cohort wanted to report and encourage deliberation on broad social and environmental issues that influence living and working conditions around the lake.

The students reinvented the Web site and added a Spanish-language component, financed by a New Voices grant from the J-Lab, to encourage participation from those in the working class. It has been challenging work.

“This is an intensive master’s program,” said Donica Mensing, Reynolds School of Journalism associate professor and graduate program director. “Our students are gaining essential experience working with new media and learning to practice journalism that’s being done in the field right now. This makes them more marketable in a very competitive industry.”

The degree program’s inaugural graduates have secured employment at Swift Communications, msnbc.com, the Nevada Commission on Tourism, KRNV-TV Channel 4 in Reno and Plum TV.

“Media succeeds when it reports on news and issues that are important to readers, viewers and users,” said Jerry Ceppos, dean of the journalism school. “In this rapidly changing profession, we are preparing the next generation of reporters best by developing new curricula, and delivering relevant education and practical experience that allows them to identify and report the finest stories with journalistic integrity.”


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