In Fall 2016, journalism students at West Virginia University and Morgan State University are reporting on the topic of food justice and America’s food system as part of the Innovators-in-Residence program, led by John Ketchum, social media producer at CNN and Tricia Fulkes-Kelley, independent digital journalist and alumna of Reed College of Media. The project also includes WVU Food Justice Fellow and Ph.D. candidate Joshua Lohnes as an expert-in-residence to provide context and subject matter expertise.

Students are investigating inequities in food access within each others’ communities and are learning how to use new techniques in social media to crowd-source content and to create content designed for social distribution. Students are also learning how to disrupt conventional journalism practice by applying counter narrative techniques to their reporting on issues of social justice.

In collaboration with WVU Associate Professor Joel Beeson, WVU Lecturer David Smith and MSU faculty, Ketchum and Kelley are working with students to cover such topics as systems of food distribution, access, security, and the roles of government, corporations, local communities and individuals in the food ecosystem.

The Innovators-in-Residence are also working with Morgan Statue University faculty and associate dean Jackie Jones to teach students across both programs in a one-of-a-kind shared classroom experience. Students, faculty and innovators gather by Google hangout each week to hear from industry experts, practice new skill sets, as well as to work with their teams on their reporting projects. In addition to working together virtually via hangout and in the project management application Slack, students have conducted three shared immersion reporting trips in Baltimore, MD, Morgantown, WV and in Charleston, WV.

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The reporting project continues a unique social justice reporting partnership between the two programs — one an HBCU located in Baltimore, Maryland, and the other a predominantly white institution located within a largely rural — in an effort to bridge the nation’s racial and rural/urban divides. This partnership previously produced Bridging Selma, an ONA Online Journalism Award finalist, and Fractured Tour, an award-winning VR documentary short.

This project experiments with emerging social media platforms as both a reporting and audience engagement tool. Students are experimenting with Medium, a hybrid online social journalism platform, to publish stories. They are learning how to produce what digital journalists call a “content vertical,” an in-depth digital product featuring expertise and content around a specific topic. The class is also producing a mobile app in partnership with the WVU Food Justice Lab to enable community members across the nation to provide data about their food access strategies and food security status.

“During our first immersion trip, students began to establish an understanding of food justice from the city’s perspective and how members of the community were trying to combat things like food insecurity, poverty and food deserts,” said Ketchum. “Students met with community members, heard lectures from guest speakers and toured community gardens.”