A new initiative will train Akron citizens to produce original journalism for ohio.com, the online home of Akron’s Beacon Journal.

Formerly based in Akron, Florida’s John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded $350,000 to the Akron Community Foundation for the project. (It awarded similar grants to 23 other communities with connections to the Knight family, whose organization owned the paper from 1903 through 2006.) The Akron foundation contributed another $100,000.

According to an Akron Community Foundation press release, “Project coordinators expect the portal to become a hub for neighborhood news, locally produced videos, student art projects, social networking, sports and business information, and more.”

Citizen journalists will learn how to write news and use new-media technology, from cameras to video-editing software.

“The purpose of this project is to strengthen community news and information-sharing by creating a new digital media academy that trains residents to share news and information about their neighborhoods using cutting-edge technology,” says Knight Foundation vice president of communications Marc Fest.

The Beacon Journal is one of the Akron Community Foundation’s major partners in the project. Beacon Journal director of marketing and community relations Chris Sabo says the paper’s staff will “serve as mentors” for citizen journalists. Newspaper employees will coach and train the writers, videographers and even sales representatives. The paper’s offices will also serve as the training site, and it will help market the online program.

Sabo says the trainers will provide basic guidelines for fact-checking and ethical issues like libel and slander, though the Beacon Journal staff will not be active in the editorial process. While the user-generated content will appear on the newspaper’s website, Sabo says the paper has no plans to use the citizen-written content in the paper. A project manager appointed by the Akron Community Foundation will serve as de facto editor.

In late 2008, a series of cutbacks trimmed the Beacon Journal staff to the bone, affecting coverage from arts to the courthouse.

“We have a rich fabric of communities,” says Sabo. “And the idea of connecting [them] through citizen journalism is for the greater good of all of our customers.”

The Akron Community Foundation has not announced a timeline for the project. Learn more at akroncommunityfdn.org. Aspiring volunteers should e-mail chrismiller@indematrix.com. — D.X. Ferris

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