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NEWPORT, Ky. - Facts and figure don't tell the full story about life in poorer neighborhoods. Communications students at Northern Kentucky University learned that lesson during a writing assignment for the Project Hope initiative of The Greater Cincinnati Service Learning Network.
Applying skills learned in Dr. Zachary Hart's public relations writing course, the students wrote feature stories about people, businesses, and organizations in Newport's Westside neighborhoods. Each writing student partnered with students from Dr. Matt Baker's photojournalism course to determine how to illustrate the stories.
Three of the students' stories have been published in KyForward.com, a website that uses public service journalism and storytelling to inform and engage citizens in communities throughout Kentucky. The writing assignment was part of Project Hope, through which Greater Cincinnati universities and colleges seek ways to help the region's neediest neighborhoods.
"This project showed me that there is a story to be told everywhere you turn in Newport's Westside—about the people places, and culture," said student Kelsey Patterson. "More than anything, I learned that the key to finding and telling a strong story is to be curious and adventurous."
According to census data on household income, homeownership, education levels, and other criteria, Newport's West Side is among the neediest communities in Northern Kentucky.
"The Westside is a great neighborhood," said Mark Newkirk, executive director of the NKU Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, which coordinates Project Hope at NKU. "It's a place with challenges, to be sure. But also it is a place where the residents care deeply about the welfare of their streets, their homes, their parks, and their churches. For our students, the West Side is a live learning lab where they are inspired by the people they meet."
Under the guidance of Newkirk, Hart, and Baker, the students produced stories that revealed the spirit and vitality of the community's residents and business owners. The three stories published by KyForward.com focused on the Buenger Boys and Girls Club, the Stained Glass Theatre, and Sweet Tooth Candies.
- READ: Family business in Newport's Westside caters to international customers' sweet tooth http://bit.ly/14QAcHn
For her feature story about Sweet Tooth Candies, Kelsey Patterson interviewed shop employees and Bob Schneider, the company's founder and chief candy maker. Schneider opened the store in 1970 and continues to run it today.
In her article about the Buenger Boys and Girls Club, Hope Cutter described the benefits through the eyes of 11-year-old Emerald Bennett who had been coming to the club for four years.
- READ: Newport's Buenger Boys and Girls Club gives study, friends, activities to city neighborhood http://bit.ly/16gkDNU
Students Kelly Trumbo and Jessica Wilson explained how the Footlighters, Inc. theatre troupe came from Western Cincinnati to create the Stained Glass Theatre in the old Salem United Methodist Church Building. The article noted that after the Stained Glass Theatre opened, shops and restaurants followed, including the popular York Street Café across the street.
- READ: Lightning struck … and an arts institution was born, sparking life in inner city neighborhood http://bit.ly/14jwVAx
KyForward.com editor and publisher Judy Clabes said these stories paint a picture that differs from the stereotype of a poorer, inner-city neighborhood:
"These are stories of resilience, entrepreneurship, and energy. They show off the Westside's vitality and diverse array of businesses and institutions," she said.
The students' stories were submitted to an independent panel of journalists for review. Cutter's story on the Boys and Girls Club was judged the best and she received a $300 cash prize from NKU's Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement.
Cutter said she chose to write about the club because she had played basketball there when she was younger.
Trumbo wrote about the Stained Glass Theatre because she has a passion for the arts. The assignment not only taught her about feature writing, but also how to talk to people when interviewing them.
When she signed up for a class in public relations writing Trumbo knew they would be writing different types of stories and articles.
"But I had not expected to get the chance to participate in something like this," she said. "I really enjoyed it."
The project made Trumbo aware that, "everyone has a story, and you can learn a lot by talking to different people."
Patterson said her own sweet tooth drew her to Sweet Tooth Candies:
"It wasn't until I spoke with Bob Schneider, the owner of the store, that I realized its rich history," she said.
Hart, who chairs the NKU Communications Department, said that whether students pursue careers in journalism or public relations, they all need to know how to tell good stories through multiple forms of media.
"We have so much information available to us now. Being able to tell a story in a way that is clear, understandable, and useful is very important," Hart said.
And while NKU's Communications program is continually adapting to the rapid changes in publishing and journalism, Hart said, "The principles of good, sound writing are still at the core of being a journalist."
He contends that the importance of good writing skills, a sense of curiosity, and sound judgment won't change no matter how much technology continues to advance.
Photojournalism professor Dr. Matt Baker said his students loved working on the project.
"Some of them were nervous at first," he said. "But they got over their nervousness once they got into the neighborhood and started to talk to people. I try to keep all my assignments as real as possible. But this assignment made it easy for me."
Proud to partner with NKU
Clabes said KyForward.com is happy to help young journalists develop the skills, attitudes, and ethics they need to pursue their calling.
"I am particularly proud of the NKU series," she said. "It was broadly collaborative, expansive in its approach to student service learning, and connected its students and the community in a special way."
Clabes noted that the project not only deepened students' understanding of meaningful issues, but also advanced readers' understanding as well.
Cutter, Trumbo, and Patterson were all excited to see their stories published in KyForward.com.
"The site's willingness to publish student pieces is encouraging, and I would love to submit other articles in the future," said Patterson.
Clabes said she doesn't agree with those who believe that journalism isn't a good career path for young people. She thinks opportunities abound, particularly for entrepreneurial writers who appreciate both the business aspects and journalistic imperatives.
"Great skills and well-placed determination can rise to the top."
"Writing/communication skills combined with intellectual rigor and breadth of journalism programs provide students with incredibly useful knowledge that is transferable to just about any other endeavor you could name," said Clabes. "You just have to be good, and then better than anyone else, and you can do anything."
More than 15 NKU classes took part in the Project Hope initiative on Newport's Westside last spring, with additional connections planned this summer and fall.
- About the NKU Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement: http://civicengagement.nku.edu/
- About the Communications Program at NKU visit: http://informatics.nku.edu/departments/communication.html
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