Model Projects: SJMC Final Report

Final Report

Model Project: School of Journalism and Mass Communication

January 28, 2010

University of Colorado — Boulder

Institute for Ethics and Civic Engagement

  • The School of Journalism and Mass Communication was pleased to be among the first academic units selected for a Model Project of the Institute for Ethics and Civic Engagement. From the very beginning of the institute, we saw certain synergies:
  • We believe the School is uniquely situated to develop programming in ethics and civic engagement. The media occupy a unique role in the learning, the expression, and the advocacy of civic engagement, and journalism educators have been involved, especially in recent years, in the study and teaching of media practice that attempts to stimulate civic engagement.
  • The First Amendment identifies "the press," which we now know as "the media," as the only commercial enterprise in American society deserving of explicit constitutional protection. With this extraordinary degree of freedom we also see a degree of responsibility — responsibility to sustain a system of public communication that benefits democratic processes, such as opinion formation, public deliberation, grassroots mobilization, and policymaking.
  • It is through the mass media that children and adults learn the values that bind them together as communities and as a society, and through the media they learn the processes of civic participation. Media also enable the expression of citizenship, through both the transmission of current information to other citizens and the advocacy of positions in public discourse. Basically, media comprise the agency in American society that is most capable of "reconnecting the dots" between citizens and the institutions that are meant to serve them.
  • Media have often failed in these roles in recent years, by discarding the notion that media themselves are pieces of a community's fabric and adopting instead the notion that they are detached observers and, increasingly, detached critics who have no stake in their communities. Higher education has often suffered the same shortcoming: Rather than becoming involved in helping communities solve problems, and nurturing in students a spirit of participation toward such solutions, too often the academy has stepped to the sidelines, content to criticize from afar. Thus one of higher education's great challenges in the 21stcentury is also one of journalism education's great challenges: to encourage young adults to fulfill their obligations to serve a greater good

I. Program Activity

The program activity for the SJMC's Model Project has had essentially two dimensions: one focusing on our youngest students, the other on our broadest constituency.

A. The student-oriented aspect began in Fall 2005 with the first course in a four-course series designed to create immediately, in our incoming students, a sense of community and ethical responsibility — even before they develop their professional media skills in their ensuing coursework.

1. The first course was a freshman-level seminar entitled "Media, Self and Society," and it was taught by Assistant Research Professor Lynn Schofield Clark. Activist Paul Loeb, the author ofSoul of a Citizen, one of the course's primary textbooks, was brought to the Boulder campus in September to meet with students and faculty.

2. A year later, in Fall 2006, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Skewes taught the second course, "Media and Political Engagement." Enrollment preference was been given to Dean's Scholars --- a new category of first-year students who have been admitted directly into the School on the basis of their admission essays and academic records. From this group alone, we had an enrollment of 14 students.

3. The third course was offered by Assistant Professor Kendra Gale in Spring 2008, again to first-year students, entitled "Media Advocacy and Cultural Citizenship." The course examined different forms of media engagement including public access television; youth Internet radio; educational programming; social marketing campaigns and PSAs; investigative reporting on social issues; citizen journalism, and "culture jamming."

4. The fourth course took place in Fall 2009: Jim Sheeler, the School's current Scholar in Residence and a Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, developed "The Narrative and Civic Engagement." The class was modern, multi-media version of the Tracy Kidder classic (of non-fiction writing) Old Friends, as it created a Website that represents the lives and remembrances of the residents of Frasier Meadows, a Boulder retirement community. The Website, entitled "Time Capsule," was launched with a public event at Frasier Meadows in December and is available at The Website has been widely praised by the faculty of the School for its technical as well as journalistic quality.


The second dimension of the School's Ethics and Civic Engagement project was our Front Range Symposium, whose purpose is to develop, more publicly, a new and deeper commitment to the profound question of the ethical, social and professional responsibilities of media institutions to the community -- whether at the local, regional, national or, even, global level.

1. The First Front Range Symposium was held on April 23, 2008, and all participants seemed to agree that it was successful. Professor Michael Tracey led a group of media managers, scholars and journalism students through a discussion of media ethics in an era of business uncertainty. The plan was to have produced and broadly distributed a "proceedings" paper from the transcription of the day's discussion, but unfortunately the paper has still not been produced.

2. The second Front Range Symposium, this one on the ethics of Media Diversity, took place Dec. 9, 2008, on the Boulder campus. Professor Michael Tracey moderated the discussion (as he had the first symposium). Unfortunately, no proceedings paper has emerged from that day.

3. The third and final Front Range Symposium, this one on the role of social responsibility in media's uncertain future, is on hold. We had entered a partnership with Canadian Consul General Dale Eisler, in Denver, who had offered to share costs in a "summit" that would bring together leading media executives and scholars from the Western U.S. and from Canada, to take up this topic for a full day. Apparently because of severe funding cutbacks, the Canadian consulate has been reluctant to proceed in the planning.

4. In the first year of this grant, two research projects were funded by the School's own (matching) funds for Ethics/Civic Engagement. Professor Mike McDevitt wrote an article entitled "Teaching Social Control," and Professor Andrew Calabrese wrote an essay, "Global Activism. "

5. The School had also intended for Kendra Gale to present to the Boulder campus a three-session workshop in the Pedagogy of Civic Engagement. It was postponed three times in Fall 2008 and Spring 2009, and when Professor Gale was denied tenure in Spring 2009, the workshop plans were abandoned.

II. Budget

The School received $40,000 from the institute, which the School matched with its own "Media Ethics Fund," which the School received years earlier as one result of a lawsuit settlement. The $40,000 IECE grant was spent in three ways:

Course Development

Course Development

                        Buyouts for four courses @ $4,500                                        $18,000

                        Instructional grants, four @3,000                                             12,000


            Summer Research grants on “Civic Media” and/or pedagogy          

                                    One years, two grants @$5,000                                 10,000



All other costs of the School Ethics/Civic Engagement activity were absorbed by the School's match.

III. Successes Growing from the Original Grant

A. In 2008 the School was able to parlay its IECE experience to receive a $27,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, based in Oklahoma City. The School hosted its first three-day faculty workshop in the Pedagogy of Ethics, in January 2009. Kelly McBride, the ethics director of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies (St. Petersburg, Fla.), led the workshop. The second workshop will be held in Spring 2010, the third in Spring 2011.

B. The School is a partner with the Department of Communication to create a Residential Academic Program entitled "Communication and Society," scheduled to launch in Fall 2010. The RAP will be housed in Buckingham Hall, which is currently being renovated and scheduled for re-opening in the fall. Kendra Gale, the SJMC faculty member who has contributed the most to pedagogy in civic engagement over the last four years, is expected to be named lead instructor for the RAP. The RAP will offer no fewer than six courses a year relating to Journalism and Communication, and several (including our successful "Media, Self and Society") are expected to contain strong civic-engagement elements.

C. Beyond the grant-supported courses, the School has offered two reprises of "Media, Self, and Society," in Spring 2009 and Spring 2010 to first-year Dean's Scholars. Dean Paul Voakes is teaching the course, whose highlight is the students' tutoring of CU-B service workers in English, through the campus-based SWAP program.

D. The School has partnered with the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, under the auspices of the IECE, in winning a Knight Foundation grant in community development. The thrust of the project is a "buzz-marketing" outreach program targeting low-income young adults in Boulder County, managed by a senior Campaigns class in the School's Advertising Sequence. Richard Goode-Allen, a longtime instructor at the SJMC, is teaching the two semesters of this campaigns course, in Fall '09 and Spring '10. The goal is to motivate low-income young adults to take leadership roles on a Website that reports news and expresses opinions relevant to their lives.

IV. Legacy of the Grant

A unique course in ethics and civic engagement has become a regular part of the SJMC curriculum. Beginning in Fall 2010, In Spring 2010, the course will become a mainstay in the curriculum of the Communication and Society RAP at Buckingham Hall.

More importantly, this year the SJMC faculty has redesigned the School's undergraduate curriculum for the first time in six years. For the first time in the history of the School, Media Ethics will become a required course in the core curriculum. This is a testament to the raised visibility of ethics and civic engagement among the faculty — all thanks to the IECE grant.