Allison Frisch, assistant professor in the Ithaca College Department of Journalism, co-wrote a paper that won first place in the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) competition for papers on the topic of “Strengthening Community Journalism.”
Frisch worked with Gina Gayle, assistant professor of Visual and Multimedia Storytelling at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, to write the paper, which was presented in July at the ISWNE conference in Lexington, Kentucky. The paper focused on funding collaboration between colleges and communities to strengthen community journalism and will be published in ISWNE’s Fall 2022 edition of the Grassroots Editor.
Contributing writer Ryan Johnson spoke with Frisch about the core research of the paper, her background in community journalism and what further research she might do.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ryan Johnson: Could you explain the core research and the conclusions of your paper?
Allison Frisch: This paper is part of a series of papers we plan to do to look at different ways students can collaborate with local news media or fill in for local news media where there are news deserts, which means there’s no local newspaper or news websites. This paper looked specifically at college and community collaborations as, kind of, journalism centers. We interviewed six people to specifically look at how you fund these centers in a college and what are the challenges to all of that and keeping the funding there. The core finding, really, was that you need a variety of funding sources, from small, local funding sources to maybe bigger foundations and also you have a challenge when you have student journalists, because they should be paid what they’re worth and they’re not here year-round. There are still some challenges to overcome, but there are some solutions as well.
RJ: What inspired you and Gayle to choose this topic?
AF: We are both former journalists and we both worked in community news. She is a visual journalist, a photographer. I was a reporter and then I was an editor and then I ran local newsrooms. We [both] watched our local newsrooms run out of money or get bought up by big hedge fund corporations, and that broke our hearts. Dr. Gayle went to Syracuse University at Newhouse and got her doctorate, and I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology and got a graduate degree, a master’s in business administration. We both wanted to go into an academic setting and try to find solutions for not only student journalists and early career journalists but for local news as well. We were both chosen as Innovation Fellows at the Arizona State Cronkite School of Journalism in 2019. We met at that fellowship and got really excited talking about the possibilities for student journalists to fill that gap where local news is missing.
RJ: How did you feel when you won the ISWNE competition?
AF: I was super excited. The competition is for strengthening community news, and that’s why I decided to come and teach, because I think a new generation of journalists is going to strengthen community news. I feel like [winning] was a validation that said, you know, you’re onto something here, this could be a solution.
RJ: Is there anything we can do as citizens to uplift community journalism?
AF: Support it when we can, not everybody can afford to pay for it when it’s behind a paywall. So, that means only people with a good amount of money can afford it. I think by reading it as much as we can, [or] by interacting with any local journalists [or] by helping them out as sources and sharing [their] stories on social media. I would never suggest that citizens who can’t afford it should have to find a way to pay to support it, that’s why I think we need new funding models for community journalism, so that it’s not simply a for-profit endeavor.
RJ: What’s next for you? Are you going to keep focusing on community journalism or maybe tackle another topic?
AF: Yes, I am going to keep focusing on community journalism. Right now, you know, we looked at those collaborations and when we presented the paper, the editors and researchers said [they] really want [us] to dive into the funding piece a little more and find all the options for funding and see how they work. That’s what we’re looking at next, we’re looking at funding. We’re also going to do research papers on, you know, students themselves. We’ll be interviewing student journalists, we’ll be interviewing funders, and I think by putting together the academics, the funders, the student journalists and the news organizations, we can get a full picture of what’s possible.