An innovation center committed to exploring how citizens can interact and gain value from journalism is becoming reality for the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism, thanks to a generous anonymous donor.

Mike Fancher UO alumnus Mike Fancher has been tasked with launching the new think tank – the Center for Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement –in time for the fall semester. Fancher is former Seattle Times executive editor and 2008-2009 Reynolds Fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.

The need

Too many conversations about the future of journalism are about, by and for journalists, says Fancher. Those interested in the future of journalism also need to explore how journalists can serve the needs of democracy and the information health of communities, in addition to the needs of journalism.

“News organizations, whether legacy or emerging, increasingly know that public engagement is critical to their success,” said Fancher. “People in civic life know that journalism is also critical to communities.”

This is the mindset Fancher is taking as he helps UO launch the new center. According to the SOJC, "the center exists to explore the current state of innovation in journalism, the role of journalism in civic life and strategies for transforming and sustaining high-quality journalism in a digital world. In addition to funding an academic chair and faculty fellowship program, the Center will host forums on new ways journalism can enhance public knowledge and civic life.  He hopes the Center will also be able to connect with other institutions, such as RJI, that are working in the journalism innovation space, and collaborate on projects.

Work as a Reynolds Fellow

As a member of the inaugural class of Reynolds Fellows, Fancher explored how technology is affecting the values and principles of journalism, as well as the relationship between journalists and the public.

“My conclusion was that journalism needs a new ethic of public trust through public engagement,” Fancher said. “In an interactive media world, journalism can’t be relevant, accountable and trustworthy if it doesn’t create a greater sense of participation with people and communities.”  

After leaving RJI, he taught at the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada in Reno. His teaching of journalism ethics and entrepreneurship was an extension of his ethics work as a Reynolds Fellow. He is also working on related projects with Journalism That Matters and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).

How he got involved

Fancher, who has been active with the UO School of Journalism and Communication since he graduated from there in 1968, has been serving as an informal adviser to the thought process behind the new innovation center.

After it was announced that Fancher would serve as the interim director, he began connecting with faculty to learn about their aspirations for the center in regard to teaching and research. He will then reach out to those involved with civic processes and in the technology field to learn what needs they have and what they would like to see addressed in journalism.

“The opportunity to take on a project like this and get it started, I couldn’t ask for a more meaningful opportunity.”

Jennifer Nelson  
Senior Information Specialist


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