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Storytellers Without Borders: Activating the Next Generation of Community Journalists Through Library Engagement

Students will gain digital media skills and hands-on journalism training to delve into community issues and participate in the news cycle.

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Describe your project.

The Dallas Public Library (DPL) will host an intensive eight-week training course that provides area high school students with opportunities to grow their professional skill set in the field of community journalism. DPL resources and services will serve as the foundation for their efforts, with branch locations serving as research centers, technology hubs, and venues for in-person interviews. Under the guidance of professional librarians, as well as partnering journalists from The Dallas Morning News, these students will become familiar with the craft of non-fiction writing and journalism best practices while gaining valuable experience using library technology and research tools.

Classes will rotate among three Dallas Public Library branch locations that represent the cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of the city, ultimately requiring students become familiar with the history and current information needs of each community. The students will foster a greater understanding of the role that information plays in the enrichment of each geographic area while observing the distinct ways in which each contributes to the community-at-large. Journalists from The Dallas Morning News will mentor the students in community journalism best practices as librarians impart the technology and research skills necessary to create multimedia stories for publication on the newspaper’s digital media site, http://DallasNews.com.

How does this project advance the library field?

As both library science and journalism professionals find themselves having to adapt to an information landscape that is in near-constant flux, Storytellers Without Borders aims to illustrate that everyone in a community has a tremendous stake in the vitality of their information resources. This project will not only demonstrate the many pivotal roles that the public library plays in the research, creation, and dissemination of information, but will equip young minds with the journalism skills necessary to participate in and enhance the public discourse themselves.

Additionally, this project reinforces the public library’s role as a community center; a neutral space where diverse individuals are encouraged to come together to educate one another through the sharing of ideas and experience. Not only will students come to better understand how the library serves the public in this way, but a much larger audience will observe the library’s impact in the final, published product of the students’ writing and research efforts. Storytellers Without Borders will highlight the ways in which the library’s identity as community center may be expanded through creative partnerships with other organizations as well, leveraging the existing resources of each to identify key needs and opportunities in the community.

Who is the audience and what are their information needs?

The partnership between the Dallas Public Library and the Dallas Morning News that forms the basis of Storytellers Without Borders greatly expands the reach of this project, maximizing the project’s potential to meet the information needs of a number of audiences.

The high school students will learn how to perform in-depth research through databases and archives, an information-gathering skill that will be required as they approach their current and future studies. They will additionally grow their experience with technology and methods for writing and telling stories digitally. While this may be a skill set that they may already use informally, this project will stress how these tools can be applied in a professional environment, meeting their need for professional training that will give them an edge. The students will also acquire knowledge about their communities, enabling participation in greater conversations and growing their ideas about the powerful role that the creation and dissemination of information plays on a community stage.

The Dallas Morning News journalists will also have their information needs met by this project by not only being exposed to the community research that the students complete, improving their own understanding of the communities that they cover, but by further developing their own digital storytelling and library research skills which are increasingly important in the field. Additionally, this program will help them influence the next generation of community journalists while growing their perspective on what unique viewpoints and experience sets the students have to offer the profession overall.

Finally, the greater community stands to have their information needs better met as Storytellers Without Borders relates the stories that matter most to them. The publication of the student journalists’ final products carries this project outside of solely being an exercise in research; individuals from the community will be able to contribute to a larger conversation.

Please list your team members and their qualifications.

Jo Giudice (Director of Libraries) - Jo earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Florida. She began her tenure with the DPL over 13 years ago as a children’s librarian and branch library manager. She later coordinated youth services for the DPL System before becoming the Central Library Administrator. She has served as DPL's Director for 3 years.

Kjerstine Nielsen (Assistant Director of Customer Experience) - Kjerstine will leverage her insight and knowledge of the various DPL branches and their diverse customer bases to assist with the project’s site-specific research and outreach aspects.

Thomas Huang (Sunday & Enterprise Editor, The Dallas Morning News) - Tom will utilize his experience working with a major metropolitan newspaper to lead the team of volunteer journalists in their mentoring efforts. His experience as Ethics and Diversity Fellow and overseer of the Poynter Institute's writing program will prove valuable in efforts to impart targeted skills to the students. He is a frequent participant in The Dallas Morning News' work with area high school students and is a regular collaborator with the Dallas Public Library.

Organization name and location (City, State).

Dallas Public Library (Dallas, TX)

What are the obstacles to implementing your idea, and how will you address them?

We have identified four potential obstacles to overcome. The first potential obstacle is inadequate funding for a program of this type at the Dallas Public Library. The Knight Library Challenge grant will support our launch of the young storytellers program. Once we have outcomes from our pilot program, we will seek to sustain the program through city funds and local foundation grants.

We have also observed a lack of cohesion and collaboration among members of Dallas’ professional writing community. Our solution is to work with and expand upon existing collaborative relationships with arts-related organizations, writing groups and media outlets.

Our partners at the Dallas Morning News have noted a disconnect between journalists and minority communities and youth. Using trustworthy and neutral Dallas Public Library spaces as the program hub and partnering with agencies that already do good work in these communities will help overcome this obstacle.

While the project will focus on writing and other forms of storytelling, it will also address the pre-existing information literacy gap among youth. Research librarians will teach students how to access archives, databases, and primary sources to use more reliable sources of information that will help them gain a better historical understanding of their community. Journalists and other writers will teach students how to record, edit and post interviews and stories using smart phones, digital recorders and cameras.

How will you spread the word about your project? Who are you trying to reach?

We will distribute program recruitment information and ultimately student-created stories with partner organizations including The Dallas Morning News, Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News’ Spanish-language publication), the Dallas Public Library system, the Dallas Independent School District and other school districts located in Dallas; local private and charter schools; regional universities; and local arts and education organizations. We will ask this body of partners to share through traditional outlets and social media.

Ultimately the Storytellers Without Borders project will reach a larger audience connecting readers information and stories that better reflect the histories, interests and daily lives of their diverse communities.

How much do you think your project will cost, and what are the major expenses?

Program coordinator: $60,000
Stipends for trainers: $10,000
Reporting and research tools, including laptops, smart phones, digital recorders, digital cameras: $10,000
Web development of a microsite to showcase students’ work: $10,000
Transportation costs: $2,000
Office supplies and refreshments: $2,000
Total – $94,000

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