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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Mormon.org presents effective example of collaboration

I learned a funny thing about summer as an educator. If you’re not careful, your summers can be busier than when school is in session. I’ve been sprinting since June 1 trying to keep up with classes I agreed to teach and students and colleagues I agreed to help. But I decided the best way to get back in the swing of things and prepare for classes next Fall is to join NaBloPoMo again and blog every day for the month of August.

Today’s first entry on the journey needs to be short. Not only am I finishing my two classes — an inperson news writing class at Ohio and and an online news writing for high school journalism advisors at Missouri (watch my weekly videos for the class here) — but I’m also mentoring three¬† international educators participating in the Study of the United States Institute on Journalism and Media and I’m off to Denver next week for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication annual conference. My AEJMC presentations – a poster on how political efficacy encourages tweens and tweens to get involved politically, and a presentation on the credibility of personal political reports such as Mayhill Fowler writes on Huffington Post — are done, but I still need to pack, finish grades for my Misssouri class, load up the iPad with a week’s worth of movies. (More on that later in the week.)

It is Sunday, so I thought I’d briefly highlight an interesting combination of user-generated content and editorial control. The new Mormon.org, the site for those who are interested in learning more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been asking me for months to visit the site and add my profile. I didn’t accept until today after a friend at church strongly encouraged me to. I found a valuable collaboration between church members and leaders that coveys the church’s official position in a personal and relatable way.

I haven’t finished my profile yet because I spent most of my time on the site clicking through the various profiles and reading responses to the Our Values and Our Faith sections. Those who create a profile complete basic information about themselves and their families, then choose from a list of questions about being a Mormon. The site then integrates those personal responses with answers written by church leaders. I found the page on the Book of Mormon to be especially effective, even as a member of the church. I knew the basic premise of the book, so I skipped right to the end to read how the book has helped other members understand the purpose of life.

I know I’m biased, so it might be hard for me to objectively analyze what the site is doing, but I couldn’t help but wonder how a news organization could take a similar approach to creating a community portal or even addressing a community issue. I’d love to read the Athens News’ take on the Richland Avenue roundabout, interspersed with reader responses on how the roundabout has saved them time or caused them headaches. This might even be a way to prevent what I witnessed in my disseration when journalists subsume audience submissions into their own reports. The audience does not find reports that rob their contributions of personality and individuality, but they want journalists to be the experts. Does it work if journalists ask the questions but readers fill in the responses? We’ll just have to see.

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