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Posts Tagged ‘Center for Collaborative Journalism’

Big City Dreams in The College Hill Corridor

Posted by southwrite on July 19, 2014

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

[The first of a three part series on Macon’s College Hill Corridor.]

Big dreams are not always fulfilled in big cities. Consider Tim Regan-Porter. The co-founder of the highly successful cultural publication, Paste Magazine, turned down a “dream job” with New York publisher Condé Nast to move to Macon. He decided that he could live a better life and make a bigger impact on journalism in this small Middle Georgia city than he could in the acknowledged world capital of publishing.

A growing number of people with big dreams and sophisticated tastes are coming here. They’re drawn by a sense that this is a city in the midst of transformation and the heart of change can be found in the historic College Hill Corridor.

Regan-Porter was in the midst of final interviews at Conde Nast, which publishes a number of magazines, and was eager to hire the man who had successfully developed the third-largest popular music title in the English-speaking world, trailing only Rolling Stone and Spin. He saw that he could be part of something even more exciting than big city publishing when he was offered the directorship of Mercer University’s new Center for Collaborative Journalism and its innovative approach to training journalists.

“It was basically seeing where he would fit best with his skills. We were most likely going to move somewhere like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and had already scoped out some apartments,” recalls wife Leila, a freelance journalist and editor.

Instead the Regan-Porters moved to Macon’s College Hill Corridor. This roughly two mile area of historic neighborhoods between Mercer University and the city’s downtown was a part of the reason the couple passed on Prospect Park for Macon.

College Hill is an intown urban district in the midst of far reaching revitalization. In the process, it’s become a model of how public/private partnership and dedicated citizen participation can turn an aging city district into a highly livable, vibrant and ever evolving urban center.

The stately Carmichael House is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of many fine homes in the College Hill Corridor, the Carmichael House at 1183 Georgia Avenue is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of the first things you notice about College Hill is its impressive stock of well-preserved historic homes. Macon has more than 5,000 structures ion the National Register of Historic Places and there are at least that many eligible for the designation, according to the Historic Macon Foundation. Many of them are in neighborhoods that comprise the corridor.

The Regan-Porters quickly became part of this revitalization. They’re renovating a circa 1890s house on High Street in the corridor. Known as the Wise Blood house, the film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name was shot here.

College Hill is a place that local boosters like to call “hip and historic” and it’s hard to argue with that phrase after spending a few days “in the corridor.” It’s preserved its history while fostering a rich and available culture of music and the arts, coupled with all the walkable amenities that draw young (and not so young) highly educated professionals to an urban setting. Here you’ll find streets of historic million dollar mansions not far from neat rows of attractive affordable housing where students and professionals live side by side with the elderly and working class.

The area has benefited from the many residents who care and get involved in the community. That passion for progress has also attracted a lot of money. Mercer University has helped lead the charge in transforming the areas around its campus from a decaying (and crime-infested) slum – without making it unaffordable for lower income residents.

A half dozen years ago, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation issued a $250,000 grant to jump start the community-driven planning of the neighborhood’s revitalization. It was the first of many to come. A master plan for the community was drawn and the College Hill Alliance, a nonprofit group housed on the Mercer campus, began the work of turning the plan into reality.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

To start, the Knight Foundation awarded $5 million to the revitalization efforts with $3 million earmarked for the Knight Neighborhood Challenge. Challenge grants of more than $2.1 million have been issued for a variety of community led purposes. Awards have ranged from $200 for a composting workshop to $180,000 for community wayfinding. The “Lights on Macon” which provides nightly illumination of the districts historic homes has been expanded annually by Knight’s grants.  These grants have helped spur an estimated  $90 million of investment in the area.

Locals say that even with all the progress the best is yet to come. The College Hill Alliance will close its doors next year and turn this work over to the community-led College Hill Corridor Commission. This organization recently unveiled a new master plan that is focused on economic development and entrepreneurship. College Hill is a great place to live, but now it just needs more jobs to keep all those young professionals here. And with this endeavor the corridor will be opening a new chapter in its ongoing transformation.


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This Hospital Might Just Save Journalism

Posted by southwrite on July 7, 2014

CCJ director Tim Regan-Porter

CCJ director Tim Regan-Porter

Everyone knows that journalism is in trouble. Newspapers are on life support and there are few occupations chancier than being a reporter. Not many media companies have figured out how to make money off the news and actually pay writers at the same time.

Yet, a growing number of people of people in the profession are saying that one good answer might be found on the campus of Mercer University in the Middle Georgia City of Macon. Here the Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ) is taking a “hospital” approach to training journalists and in the process is reviving professional journalism.

The 186-year-old Macon daily, The Telegraph, and Georgia Public Broadcasting have co-located to a new mixed use development on the Mercer campus. Students from the journalism program are now working side by side reporters leaning by doing a good bit of the legwork for newspaper and public radio reports. It’s a lot more than just fetching coffee.

These students are producing real journalism. Mercer junior Jane Hammond did an early  story for National Public Radio on the Atlanta’s Braves move to  Cobb County and another on the Mercer basketball team’s upset of Duke. She also did a four minute feature on concussions in youth football.

“I’m fairly confidence that this is the only one like in the nation that has a public broadcaster and a (professional) newspaper in a school,” explains Tim Regan-Porter, the Center’s director. “There’s nothing else like this in which we’re integrating the professionals into the curriculum. It’s a first as far as we can determine.”

Journalism schools have long offered internship at media outlets. I spent three months at a weekly in Barnesville, Ga while at the University of Georgia’s journalism school. None have ever put students this close to real newsrooms enabled this much mentoring by editors and reporters.

The idea for the journalism center originated with the Macon Telegraph’s former publisher George McCanless. The energy and enthusiasm that he saw among the students he met at UGA was in sharp contrast to the generally pessimistic feelings of professional journalists. Why not move the newspaper out of its aging and cavernous building and onto the campus so that his reporters could experience some of that passion?

Back in Macon, he called up Mercer’s entrepreneurial-minded president Bill Underwood. He liked the idea and suggested they include a public broadcaster in the mix as well. And, to make it happen the two approached the Knight Foundation about providing funding.

The Knight Foundation also liked the notion – to the tune of $4.6 million. (Macon’s Peyton Anderson Foundation kicked in another $1 million.) They also informed journalism school deans and presidents of the universities “saying that if you want foundation money you need to start exploring these types of models. Teaching hospitals is the way you need to be thinking about it. Think less about academic credentials and start leveraging professionals to teach,” he adds.

“Bill Underwood went to Knight and made the pitch that of all the professional schools, medicine does the best job of training professionals because they have teaching hospitals,” explains Regan-Porter. “They’re actually serving the community and you have mentoring going on in a very real direct way. And they not only tend to the best educational services and professional services, but they also tend to provide the best hospital services for their area, because the doctors are staying up to speed with the latest medical technologies. That’s what we want to do for journalism.”

The Center for Collaborative Journalism in Mercer Village is now home to The Macon Telegraph and Georgia Public Media.

The Center for Collaborative Journalism in Mercer Village is now home to The Telegraph and Georgia Public Media.

The Telegraph moved its news room operations to the new building in Mercer Village, a mixed-use development in Macon’s College Hill Corridor, near the University’s historic campus, about six months ago. A new student residence hall sits just across the street from the building on a street that includes a variety of restaurants and shops. The original plan was to house the entire company here, but funding fell short. Georgia Public Media occupied another section of the building. More recently the Center acquired its own television station.

Getting professionals involved in the training of student journalists has been one area in which the program has been particularly successful. Regan-Porter came to the Collaborative Center after co-founding of Paste Magazine, one of the nation’s leading Music/Film/Culture publications and a direct competitor to Rolling Stone. He declined offers from bigger and more prestigious institutions both because of the program and the opportunity to live in the hip and historic College Hill neighbor that surrounds Mercer.

Reporters come into the classroom as guest lecturers and also work in the school’s writing lab critiquing student articles. That’s been particularly important as students enroll in the ongoing Practicum class that requires them to do published work. The process is good for students – they get professional mentoring – and for reporters – they get some help with their own work.

So where is the program going from here? Regan-Porter’s answer reflects just how different this effort is compared to the typical academic approach.

“We’re still figuring it out,” he admits. “We’re making changes every year and we will continue to do that – which is unique for academia. They don’t exactly like changes every year, but we’re very free rein. We have a lot of flexibility.”

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This is How Much Art Matters in Macon, Ga.

Posted by southwrite on June 14, 2014

Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers.

Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers.

You’ve probably noticed – or maybe you haven’t – that big media doesn’t cover the arts as it once did. Gone are book sections. Music reviews tend to be crammed into a slim weekend section. In-depth reporting and incisive criticism is elusive.

Of course journalism in general and newspapers in particular are suffering and have fewer resources for covering much of anything – much less the arts. There’s still a lot of criticism and reporting going on out there, but it’s harder to find and tends to be more specialized than ever before.

Musicians are also finding it as hard to make a living as many editors and reporters. The internet has pushed newspapers and magazines to the brink, but in some ways it’s even worse for performers. With songs going for a dollar, it’s hard to make a living.

That’s one reason why the recent Art Matters Symposium series in Macon, Ga. is so interesting. This series of panels with artists and journalists bills itself as a means for “engaging the community through high-quality arts journalism.”

A creation of The Macon Arts Alliance and Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ), the program is embedding journalism interns in various arts organizations served by the Alliance. These journalists will create news articles, blogs, video reports and provide general coverage for local news outlets, the CCJ’s newsroom, and Alliance’s website — – and other publications.

The program also provides for a critic-in-residence at the CCJ and a public symposium series pairing artists and critics in discussion on the state of the arts and criticism.

The last of these symposiums kicked off at the historic Cox Capital Theater in downtown Macon. The topic for this last program was music.

In case you didn’t know, Macon, Ga. has a storied musical history. It was the home of legends such as Little Richard, Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers to name just a few. Capricorn Records was headquartered here while its co-founder Phil Walden played a decisive role in popularizing Southern Rock for a wider audience.

The city has also become something of a model for innovative journalism education. The Collaborative Center, with financial support from the Knight Foundation, has pushed a new model of educating journalists. Based on the teaching hospital approach to physician training, students at Mercer work closely with editors and reporters from The Macon Telegraph and GPB Media in producing real stories about local events. [A Mercer student interning with GPB became the first reporter to break the story of the Atlanta Braves move into a new stadium in suburban Cobb County.]

Both those news organizations have moved to new digs on the Mercer campus to put them in close proximity to students.

These two forces came together in a panel with Patterson Hood, Athens based singer songwriter and co-founder of Drive-By Truckers, and Josh Jackson, co-founder and editor in chief of the award winning Paste Magazine.

Later that evening Hood would be performing solo during a house concert held at the renovated “Crisco House” – one of the mansions that fill the city’s hip and progressive College Hill Corridor. This afternoon he was talking about the challenges of being a professional musician and what it takes to make a living along with music.

What became clear in their discussion is musicians and journalists are facing many of the same challenges in adapting to a rapidly changing media landscape. As both newspaper and musicians struggle to survive, both fields are changing their tactics to make a living. Musicians in particular have to realize that that it’s not just about playing music, but in taking control of their careers and creating a recognizable and salable brand.

Having a top 40 record is no longer a path to financial success. Bands must be able to perform night after night. “We’ve been able to carve out a decent living,” said Hood. “We’re known as a good live band.”

Even this constant touring has to be supplemented by other revenue streams such as t-shirt sales.

Branding is also vital to standing out. Hood and the band have devoted considerable effort into developing the art and graphics that adorns their albums, posters and t-shirts. “You need a recognizable visual element,” he said.

Even with good business practices, bands often end up in debt and seeking funding from friends, family and other supporters. Hood works his own day job to support his primary occupation of music.

While advancing in recording technology has made it easier than ever to get a record out, it can be challenge to gain attention and earn money for it with so many people downloading music.

The free streaming services for music only exist because (investors) keep pouring money into them,” said Jackson. He added “the streaming services pay so little because they make so little.”

He explained the role of music criticism has also changed dramatically. While critics no longer have the influence and impact they once did, they are even more important in helping listening find good music amidst all the clutter. They can champion good bands and help them be found and understood.

Music criticism is not as broad as it once was, but it does go deeper,” he explained. “It’s the rare review that really gets people talking. Music journalism is much less centralized and that’s a good development for fans. It’s no longer up to a small number of people to decide what you’re going to hear.”

By helping to bring forth good music they can also help musicians to achieve something that can seem elusive these days – “a middle class lifestyle.”

One thing that became clear is that music and journalism are tightly linked to each other and the success of one is vital to the other.

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