Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Knight Fellows Host Credibility Roundtable

ANNISTON-- The Anniston Star should cover more positive things in the Anniston City Schools and not always play up the negative stories on its front pages.

Those were just some of the things eleven Anniston Star past and present readers shared in tonight's Credibility Roundtable held at the Anniston Star-Calhoun County Public Library main branch.

The lessons learned about what the newspaper is doing well and not so well are virtually endless.

The opportunities for adding a dimension to the research on community journalism are great.

The only glitch was a tape recorder on one side of the room that was not recording during the last 45 minutes of the roundtable. That creates an extra challenge with making the transcript.

But, we'll get there.

The important thing is that the Knight Fellows executed a fantastic community-based event. It's always hardest to do the first of anything.

We have a foundation on which to build in future years.

Much more on which to report tomorrow.

Countdown to Credibility- 90 minutes away

ANNISTON-- So far no rain. That's a good sign as we quickly move into the final hour before the first Credibility Roundtable of the Knight Fellows in Community Journalism.

There are storms moving into Alabama and expected to be a factor in our weather situation in a few hours. It would be great if they held off until 9pm when the roundtable will be behind us.

As I transition from some afternoon research writing to getting dressed for the event, I am reminded of a rich discussion that occurred in our second afternoon pre-roundtable meeting.

Time did not permit me to explain that the first meeting was with members of the Anniston Star staff and the second was with the Knight Fellows enrolled in the Producing Community Journalism course. At both meetings, our guest moderators, Peggy Kuhr and Carol Nunnelley took the lead in gauging the expectations of those who are involved in the roundtable. The meetings gave us a chance to all get on the same page in terms of how things will proceed tonight.

One thing we realized in both meetings-- 90 minutes is not a lot of time. Traditionally, this is the longest you want to engage members of the community, but after time is factored in for the introductions and wrap-ups, there is not a lot of discussion time.

It's unclear how the time factor will influence our conversations tonight.

We hope there will be just enough time at the end for roundtable participants to complete a post-roundtable survey that will provide data that can be used to extend findings from the roundtable itself.

The question of numbers came up more in the second meeting. We agreed that the even a small crowd (5 or 6) will yield findings to add a much-needed dimension to the literature and give the paper some feedback it did not have about the Anniston City Schools.

The role and positioning of the Knight Fellows, Anniston Star editors and UA faculty was also greatly discussed in both meetings, with more clarification of those roles coming in the second meeting this afternoon.

It was decided that because the emphasis is on the members of the community, two Knight Fellows who have a connection to the Anniston City Schools through their involvement and/or background in education will be asked to sit at the table and be available as resource persons who speak ONLY when called on by the moderators.

The real speakers, the participants in the roundtable will be those from the community.

We'll see how it goes.

Countdown to Credibility- 5 hours to go

ANNISTON-- The first of two final strategy sessions has ended and we're about to have a second session.

One participant for the roundtable just canceled, but another confirmed. The name cards have been made and the line-up for tonight has been confirmed.

The experience of the last-minute deadlines is always instructive.

The 2pm meeting awaits.

Countdown to Credibility-- 12 hours to go

ANNISTON-- When we set the date for this roundtable, November 14 seemed so far away. Now it's finally here. I can't say much else is on my mind this morning.

I don't mind sharing that tonight's credibility roundtable was a big part of my morning prayers today. I think a lot of what will happen is in God's hands.

This is not just some class event or newspaper activity or community forum. Readership panels are a regular thing for The Star. What isn't regular is to have the University of Alabama and six of its graduate students attached to an activity like this.

It's been done at other universities where the school was in a different place from the newspaper partner. But the Star and the University of Alabama are already in bed together. Our "partnership" by way of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has existed for several years.

Tonight's roundtable is our first big public event since six outstanding Knight Fellows arrived here in August. That's why this is so important.

The setting, which I mentioned yesterday, is one that physically puts us in the very place where we want to be: the community.

It's going to be great. Sure there will be lots of little last-minute things to do today. There always are, Some people will complain that we waited until the last minute.

Still, I think the Knight Fellows, the students will gain a lot from even these last-minute things.

Now, let's get this day started.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Countdown to Credibility-- the PLACE and PEOPLE

ANNISTON-- Ironically, the room where tomorrow's roundtable will take place is the Ayers room, named after the same family that owns The Anniston Star and via its parent company Consolidated Publishing.

Tonight we began assembling tables in a format that will maximize the opportunity for input. The U-shaped set-up should facilitate involvement and decrease the power dynamics that often can come with everyone sitting around a single table.

Professor Peggy Kuhr, formerly of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, WA, now at the Knight Chair for Press, Leadership and Community at the University of Kansas, will co-moderate with Carol Nunnelley, who is the director of the Roundtables project.

Kuhr's classes at the University of Kansas have conducted at least three of the roundtables that involved partnerships between journalism classes and newspapers. She brings a wealth of experience in negotiating the relationship between a news organization and its community.

Nunnelley is familiar with Anniston as she is a former managing editor of The Birmingham News.

The location for tomorrow night's event is ideal because it's centrally located in the HEART of the city on which we will be focusing our discussions.

Countdown to Credibility - 24 hours to go

ANNISTON-- Tonight I begin a series of postings on the much-anticipated Credibility Roundtable that we'll be hosting tomorrow evening here in downtown Anniston.

Part a larger national program of the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Credibility Roundtables Project has been around for five years. When the project began in 2001, the newspaper editors aimed to tackle the public's big questions about news credibility.

Tomorrow night's roundtable will involve about 15 Anniston and Calhoun County residents in addressing the question how credible is The Anniston Star's coverage of the Anniston City Schools.

Earlier this evening, I went to the roundtable site, the Anniston/Calhoun County Main Library downtown to check out the place.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A view from Piedmont

PIEDMONT-- A first for me today as I had a chance to drive north of Jacksonville, Ala. to the small community of Piedmont, Ala. The occasion for this trip was a class visit for the Knight Fellows in Community Journalism.

Not only was it a wonderful opportunity to see a community UP CLOSE, it was a chance to see the fall colors along Highway 21.

Consolidated Publishing recently purchased The Piedmont Journal and added it to the list week publications it prints at its Anniston facility. It also has a top-notch staff that is based in Jacksonville while they keep a strong presence IN the community.

Today we met some of the Piedmont Journal staff. I hope to visit again.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Blogging on Crime in Anniston

Just discovered today that one our own here at The Anniston Star has his own blog that focuses on the crime in the Anniston/Calhoun County, Ala. area.

Check it out.

Andy Johns, who I just really got a chance to meet on Monday is doing a great job with this.

He and fellow Anniston Star reporter, Steve Ivey, are our resident bloggers. This whole web log thing takes a lot of time.

But it's fun if you get used to doing on a regular basis.

Andy seems to have that mastered.

You'll be seeing a lot more from them on Election Day.