2023 Year of the Rabbit

2023 at RJI: A look back

2023 was another year full of new solutions and ideas for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism. Even as RJI continued to focus on strengthening community news by supporting innovative approaches to content and funding models and performing in-house experimentation here at RJI, the national breadth and impact of these efforts expanded in a number of ways.

“In the year of the rabbit, we didn’t sit back on our haunches,” said Randy Picht, executive director of RJI. “When we saw an issue, whether it was burnout in the news industry or a need to reach underserved audiences in new ways, we tried to make a difference with practical and tested solutions.”

In October, RJI partnered with research firm SmithGeiger to release a revolutionary survey seeking find solutions to burnout, which affects an estimated 70% of journalists. In less than two months, industry response blew past initial goals, and the survey ultimately closed with more than 1,135 responses as one of the largest surveys related to burnout ever conducted. The survey’s results will be distributed to journalists and news organizations in the first quarter of 2024.

Just a few months earlier, RJI launched a pilot project with Dynasty Media to place digital screens in public gathering places like restaurants and hair salons to display news and advertisements from community news organizations, helping those organizations deliver local journalism to underrepresented communities that accurately reflects those communities.

In the year of the rabbit, we didn’t sit back on our haunches. When we saw an issue, we tried to make a difference with practical and tested solutions.

Randy Picht, RJI executive director

Since the launch in June, the screen network has expanded from St. Louis to Atlanta, in addition to its initial screens in Minneapolis. And though the network did not even exist until 2023, Atlanta is already the largest market with more than 100 screens.

For more examples of pioneering innovation, one need only look to the 2022-2023 RJI Fellows, who released their free, open-source projects, including an online toolkit to help journalists stay “trauma-informed and identity-aware” and YESEO, a Slack app with AI integration that streamlines search engine optimization by generating suggestions for headlines, keywords, descriptions and subheads.

Of course, as we said goodbye to one group of fellows, we welcomed another. The 2023-2024 fellows are hard at work building projects that range from teaching journalists how to work with amateur radio operators during natural disasters to improving the quality of reporting on Latino and Hispanic communities. As always, you can follow along with their progress here on rjionline.org, where the fellows post regular updates and insightful commentary on their work.

But the RJI Fellows weren’t the only innovators creating resources of practical use to the industry. The annual Student Innovation Competition awarded more than $13,000 to student teams from the University of Missouri, Stanford University and the University of Maryland for their service journalism-related solutions to local needs in their communities. Read more about the teams and their projects here as we look forward to the next round of entries in 2024.

Students also dispersed to local news organizations throughout the country as Student Innovation Fellows, where they spent the summer assisting with everything from improving audience analytics and product testing to enhancing coverage of underrepresented communities.

In fact, there was so much practical experimentation and advancement at RJI this year that we needed somewhere to put it all. The RJI Innovation Hub launched in August and serves as a one-stop shop for the open-source resources created within RJI’s various programs and projects. These are tried-and-tested tools you can use, all in one place — check back often for updates.

Plenty more happened at RJI in 2023, but we couldn’t fit every highlight here. To make sure you don’t miss a thing in 2024, follow RJI on LinkedIn, Facebook and X, and don’t forget to sign up for the Innovation in Focus newsletter.

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