Kathleen Majorsky, a journalist who worked with Michele McLellan and Janet Coats at RJI, is writing a series of posts called “Who is Block by Block?” for The Patterson Foundation website to introduce the foundation community to the sites and publishers whose work the foundation is supporting through Block by Block. We ‘re cross posting them here.
Austin Talks contributors are as diverse as the 100,000 people living in the Austin community, a neighborhood in Chicago.
Only a year and half old, Austin Talks contributors range from residents who want an important community issue covered to graduate and undergraduate students from Columbia College of Chicago, where Suzanne McBride is the associate chair of the journalism department.
“I try as much as I can to have students contributing to the site. A lot of the students aren’t from the neighborhood. They learn very quickly that you can go into a neighborhood you are not familiar with, build a rapport with people and tell their stories.”
McBride sees the value of this kind of teaching method. She is creating an environment where the students are doing real world work with real world consequences.
“A lot of people read this website so it really raises the stakes for students to be serious about their journalism and to be as accurate as possible to reflect as much as possible the truth of whatever story it is they are trying to tell,” McBride says.
Residents of Austin are also letting their journalism skills shine on the site. McBride is proud of the fact that members of the Austin community are taking ownership of the site and making it their own. Residents are stepping up and helping each other in concrete ways beyond the discussion on the website.
“If you read the comments on our website, they are long and involved. They say, ‘hey, I want to help you with this project’ and people don’t even know each other. It is exciting to see and we hope it will continue,” McBride says.
McBride says all neighborhoods should have a voice that informs elected officials and enable civic action.
“I look at Austin Talks as one more way for residents to say what they think and become civically engaged in what’s happening here in the neighborhood,” McBride says..