Kent CollinsColumbia, Mo. — Concerns that there have not been enough voices engaged in meaningful dialogue of important community issues led one University of Missouri professor to pursue a new way of enhancing a critical element of journalism — creating a public forum — and doing it with improved social media tools.

Radio-Television Journalism Faculty Chairman Kent Collins is partnering with Public Broadcasting Station KETC-TV, St. Louis, known as The Nine Network, for his 2012-2013 fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) at the Missouri School of Journalism. In March, KETC managers contacted Collins to create a new style of public affairs television journalism.

KETC wanted to produce a higher quality broadcast on the “big issues,” like children at risk, failing infrastructure, economic development, healthcare and the arts in the St. Louis region.

Public affairs journalism on radio and television is long form, in-depth discussion of community issues. For the most part, public affairs programs disappeared from radio and TV journalism in the 1970s and 1980s.

“I think regular TV newscasts are not able, in this economic climate, to devote adequate resources to covering the big issues,” said Collins. “Regular TV newscasts can cover the news of the day but not the ongoing issues of the community.”

The RJI-KETC team decided to create “Stay Tuned,” designed to expand and diversify the public forum. “Stay Tuned” will be a weekly one-hour program on hot topics in the KETC region.

“Discussion of community issues in the past has utilized bureaucrats, bankers and other community leaders,” he said.

Twitter, Facebook and email will be used heavily to encourage citizens to join in the discussion. The broadcast will include interviews with experts, journalists and citizens via Google Plus Hangouts, a video chat program. Collins said the plan is to begin airing the broadcasts in early November at 9 p.m. on Thursdays on KETC. Watch for more details.

Every week, as many as nine students will be involved in producing various program segments, all of which are designed to recruit more citizens into the discussion and evaluate the awareness and behavior of citizens related to the topic.

Goals of the project

For RJI and Collins, the goal is to measure three key components – how many people are watching the program, how many are more aware of these issues and how are they moved to action as a result of watching the program and participating in the public forum.

“For example, if we’re reporting on teen pregnancy, are parents moved to talk with their teenage son or daughter?” said Collins. “If it’s about the arts, have we moved people to go visit art museums and cultural sites? If it’s about infrastructure in the city, have we caused people to write angry letters to city hall about all the potholes in the street.”

From a research standpoint, Collins said he wants to determine whether social media enhances this “critical element of journalism,” — creating a public forum.

In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, Collins coaches television journalists and consults for TV stations from around the country and the world, including Russia, China and Europe. During his career he has served as reporter, producer, anchor, newsroom manager and consultant.

As the yearlong RJI fellowship progresses, the hope is to share with TV station nationwide what the research team learned using social media to expand the public forum in television journalism. His hope is to create a public forum model other stations can use.

Jennifer Nelson-Pallikkathayil  
Senior Information Specialist


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