AustinTalks gets funding to go live

December 1, 2009
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Columbia College Chicago has received a $45,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust to develop a Web site for and by the residents of the West Side Chicago neighborhood of Austin. With the help of the Austin community and in collaboration with The Chicago Tribune, assistant professor Suzanne McBride plans to launch the Web site in spring 2010. The site – AustinTalks.org – will serve as a clearinghouse of news and information, featuring stories, photos, video and audio about the people, places, events and issues important to Austin.

“We’re honored to have been given the opportunity to partner with the residents, business owners, civic leaders, educators and people of faith in Austin,” said McBride, ¬†associate chair of the Journalism Department and co-publisher of the 2 1/2-year-old local news Web site ChicagoTalks.org she started with Associate Professor Dr. Barbara K. Iverson.

“We see a direct link between civic journalism like this and democracy, and we’re looking forward to working with the citizens of Austin as we’ve done in other neighborhoods with ChicagoTalks,” Iverson said.

The Austin project was one of 12 selected for $500,000 in awards; there were 86 applications seeking to fund projects totaling $5.7 million in requests.

Bill Adee, the Tribune’s digital media editor, said, “We were thrilled when Columbia approached us with this idea. It fits in perfectly with our vision of ChicagoNow to provide a platform for voices that sometimes are not heard.”

Tracy Schmidt, editorial director of ChicagoNow, which will feature AustinTalks.org once it launches, said, “The real experts about Austin live in Austin. We look forward to working with Columbia College and the people who know Austin best.”

Gerould Kern, editor of the Chicago Tribune, noting the unique partnership between a non-profit college and one of the nation’s largest for-profit media companies, said, “Working together, the Chicago Tribune and Columbia College can build something unique that can be a template for the future. These are three great names in one of the nation’s greatest cities: Columbia College, Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago Tribune.”

McBride and Iverson will edit and distribute the news and information gathered by student and citizen journalists through mobile devices, text messaging and newsletters to reach as many Austin residents as possible and to build audience involvement.

Community News Matters is a new and unique endeavor, according to The Chicago Community Trust. It is part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, $24 million national effort “to help place-based foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engage.” The program was announced last summer, and open to individuals, for-profits and non-profits. The application deadline was Sept. 15. The grants will be distributed in December. A second round of funding is anticipated in 2010.

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