The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the Missouri School of Journalism hit new heights in 2022 with a number of new and continuing projects that further cemented its place as a leader in innovation for the journalism industry.
“As we spring into the year of the rabbit, it’s important to remember all of the momentum we gained in 2022,” said RJI Executive Director Randy Picht. “The year’s projects have given newsrooms and the industry at large more than good ideas. We’ve delivered — and continue to deliver — real, innovative solutions that can be put into practice to meet some of the most challenging and emergent needs in journalism. We’ll continue to build on this progress in 2023.”
In an effort to help newsrooms create more equitable and representative coverage for their audiences, RJI teamed up with Chalkbeat to develop and launch a groundbreaking source tracking tool. Using automated email surveys, newsrooms can gain aggregate data about their sources to inform broader diversity, equity, and inclusion work. The project grew out of Chalkbeat’s own internal work and is now the basis of a network of newsrooms and journalists from all over the country.
That was hardly the year’s only example of collaboration. The Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk — in its first full year of operation — partnered with RJI to develop efficient ways to distribute its content to partner newsrooms around the country and conduct research about attitudes toward climate change in the heartland.
And in December, RJI extended the partnership with the Multicultural Media & Correspondents Association (MMCA) announced earlier in the year to grow the Inclusive Media and Economies project. Founded by RJI in 2020, Inclusive Media and Economies helps publishers of color gain access to community development, revitalization and reinvestment funds. MMCA is integrating this work into its strategies to help news organizations dedicated to Black, Indigenous and People of Color grow their audiences and find more funding sources.
The 2021-2022 RJI Fellows brought a number of ambitious research and community engagement projects to fruition, including a development tracker toolkit to help newsrooms keep their communities informed about new and upcoming property developments, a guide for covering the disability community in an informed, accessible and respectful fashion, and a coaching program to help local news journalists of color develop leadership plans and navigate obstacles in the industry. Learn more about their work and even find ways to get involved here.
As we spring into the year of the rabbit, it’s important to remember all of the momentum we gained in 2022. The year’s projects have given newsrooms and the industry at large more than good ideas. We’ve delivered — and continue to deliver — real, innovative solutions that can be put into practice to meet some of the most challenging and emergent needs in journalism. We’ll continue to build on this progress in 2023.Randy Picht, RJI executive director
Of course, as one group launched their projects, we also welcomed eight new RJI Fellows, each dedicated to creating practical resources to address gaps and challenges in the industry. From succession planning to coverage of Muslims and Islam in the media and much more, the fellows are building actionable tools and guides that newsrooms can efficiently put to use. And as an added bonus, they are reporting on their ongoing work here on rjionline.org.
Speaking of fellows, the Watchdog Writers Group added two new journalist-authors this year, each receiving $50,000 to write books based on their investigative journalism and reporting. Alisa Roth and Sarah Smarsh each have experience reporting for major news outlets and are focusing their efforts on two very different subjects: Roth’s book will investigate the causes behind rising female incarceration rates, while Smarsh is covering human impacts on America’s endangered tallgrass prairie ecosystems.
Seven students also served as Student Innovation Fellows this past summer, helping news organizations all over the country implement and improve product work. From targeted newsletters and cutting-edge social media tools to creative content for all news mediums, the fellows documented their work in the Innovation in Focus web series.
On a related note, Innovation in Focus recently welcomed its new editor, Emily Lytle, who will take a hands-on role in helping both students and newsrooms develop new and innovative solutions to industry challenges.
But moving the industry forward isn’t only about supporting reporters and newsrooms themselves — RJI is also engaged in promoting a healthy and beneficial relationship between journalism and its audiences. In March, Dana Cassidy — then a senior at the University of Florida — won the $10,000 first prize in RJI’s national Student Innovation Competition for her news literacy toolkit project, which includes a curriculum of educational activities designed to help people of all ages improve their ability to engage with journalism. Cassidy went on to an internship with the Washington Post after graduation, which ultimately turned into a full-time job at the newspaper.
From research and development in collaboration with the industry to connecting students with hands-on learning opportunities — in keeping with the School of Journalism’s Missouri Method of learning by doing — RJI continued to produce real and diverse benefits for the industry.
“It has been a whirlwind year of partnering with great collaborators like NABJ, Chalkbeat, Tiny News Collective, Big Local News and others to build platforms, tools and resources to help move journalism forward,” said Kat Duncan, RJI’s director of innovation. “I am thrilled that we’ll be announcing more new programs and partnerships soon. Stay tuned, we have a lot of exciting things planned for 2023!”