6 things to know about the Center for Media Innovation

A great number of thoughtful people, organizations and projects working to improve the future of local news. To help ground the work being done, CISLM compiled a database of projects already in progress.

We’re asking local news leaders six things to know about their work. Andrew Conte, Ph.D., is the Associate Vice President and Managing Director for the Center for Media Innovation, housed at Point Park University.

CISLM Intern Caitlyn Yaede spoke to Conte via Zoom. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media: Can you describe the mission and work of the Center for Media Innovation?

Andrew Conte: We see the Center for Media Innovation as a laboratory for figuring out the present and future of local journalism. We, at times, have taken a broader definition of that to (include) the local storytelling, but we narrow the journalism piece of it down.

We have three main audiences: Young people — so of course our college students, but also high school students who often know the technology but often don’t know the basics of how to do storytelling. We work with them on that, and media literacy is a big piece of that.

And then, professionals. We work with journalists, and also public relations (professionals), on how to keep up with the technology.

And we work with the public. We do events that introduce the public to newsmakers and journalists and (create) opportunities for them to learn about freedom of information.

CISLM: What is the desired impact of your work, and how do you measure success?

AC: So we focus on engaging the public in local journalism. Each of our programs has its own assessment.

For one of our projects, we set up a newsroom downtown as a shared space for different news outlets. So we’re measuring that with both qualitative and quantitative data about, How has the newsroom shaped their effectiveness, how has it shaped their collaboration? And then just how often they use the space.

We have the Pittsburg Media Partnership, which is a collaboration of about 26 news outlets right now. We measure the success by, one, how many groups are involved and actively involved, and then we provide funding for collaborative reporting and infrastructure — We bring the editors together every two weeks. We measure engagement with that.

As part of that program, we have an internship program over the summer. We’ve placed 40 interns over the last three years. This summer, we have 10 with different newsrooms around the region.

We have a community newsroom project where we work with citizens to bring them into the news process. We measure success there by how many citizens are involved and how actively they’re involved. We just did a live storytelling event last week with nine people from the community — they lost their newspaper and now they have a startup newspaper (organization). But these people got up and they shared stories they’d been working on. In addition to that, they produce content for the startup newsroom.

CISLM: How do you all collaborate? And in what ways can folks get involved with the work you do?

AC: One of the big projects that have come together for us is the different media partnerships. We’ve been trying to change the paradigm here. We had two daily newspapers that were trying to put each other out of business, and some electronic startups that were also trying to put others out of business. We started thinking about shifting the thinking (in Pittsburgh) that we were all better off if we all succeed rather than trying to kill each other.

We’re in about year three or four of that now, and it’s really taken root. For me, one of the big indications of that is we had a bridge collapse here years ago, and — on their own — the news outlets started sharing content. The editor of the (Pittsburgh) Jewish Chronicle reached out to me within a half hour of the bridge collapsing and said, ‘I live near the scene, I’m getting photographs but I don’t know that we’re going to use them in our publication, at least not for another week or two.’ So he asked if he could share them with the group. I’m like, ‘Yeah, that would be terrific.’

He did, (the photos) ended up running in one of the suburban community (papers). Other news outlets started sharing their on-the-street sources, the neighbors who witnessed the incident. For me, that was great, it was like, OK, this is actually happening. These outlets realize they’re better off working together.

That comes and goes. You have a couple right now that are digging in and trying to protect their turf, I think — as resources get more strained, they get more defensive.

CISLM: What should local journalists, or just your civically engaged community member learn from y’all’s work? And what resources can they access to learn more about y’all’s work?

AC: What I would really love is for the public to learn about our work. We’re starting a couple of projects now that directly engage the public in local journalism, and the big takeaway that we want them to have is that the news belongs to everybody now. This was a money-making business in the 20th century, but now it’s really shifted into something more like a civic institution.

We all have the power to be publishers and broadcasters, and the public is doing that increasingly without a lot of guardrails. We’re launching a training program for citizens, and it’s courses where they can learn to do that.

With the journalists, we’re encouraging them to engage more directly with the public — being more unidirectional where it’s always been the journalist telling the public what they need to know. It’s more about not only even listening to the public, although that’s a big step forward if you start listening, but also asking the public to be part of the news process.

CISLM: Do you guys have any fun traditions over at the Center for Media Innovation? For example, the tradition we have at CISLM is Bagel Tuesdays. Do you guys have anything fun at your center?

AC: We get together as a team every two weeks and just do a check-in where we talk about what’s good or bad and what we can celebrate.

We did do karaoke at the end of the spring semester this year. I think that might become a new tradition. We need more traditions.

CISLM: Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about the center that you want to include?

AC: The area that we serve is very parochial, I think because of the geography. The rivers and valleys kind of separate people here so they get isolated into their individual communities. We (at the Center) have sort of gotten isolated in terms of the work we do from all the national organizations that are also doing similar work. And so I really appreciate, you know, making the effort to reach out and connect us.