Ohio University

Ohio University

Rural Remote Reporting Lab

Ohio University is one of the 2017 winners of the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. See all 10 winners.


  • Dr. Michelle Ferrier, Associate Professor, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University
  • Allison Hunter, WOUB Public Media, Editor-in-Chief

View a sample county newsletter from the project here.

Describe your project

Southeastern Ohio represents an underserved region. Because of the geographic, technological and demographic challenges, we propose a four-pronged strategy in Meigs, Vinton, Jackson and Gallia counties. Through this project, we will

  • teach students community mapping skills to learn and report on a geographic region
  • create a real-time social media monitoring and reporting lab where student reporters act as a community aggregators, in areas with broadband penetration
  • create and distribute news updates via social media, WOUB-FM and on WOUB.org
  • create a postcard journalism format to provide news updates to and from households in the counties that lack broadband access.

What is your live news experiment?

Two strategic social media classes in Fall 2017 will be used to conduct the social media monitoring of select geographies within Southeastern Ohio. WOUB will support these students and additional journalism students to prepare audio and multimedia packages for online and audio distribution. Students will verify data from the monitors and report content using social media and develop audio packages with interviewees. We will collaborate to teach strategic social media, supporting students to use Banjo, CrowdTangle and other geolocation monitors to assess what is happening via curated and public channels. Allison Hunter will work with WOUB broadcast student volunteers as well as the WOUB News professional journalists she supervises to write and package the stories uncovered by students. Dr. Michelle Ferrier will work with the content and a student design team to create a unique postcard format with a pre-paid response card that will lead readers to online and broadcast content and offer community engagement with users on key issues.

If the experiment works, what do you think might happen?

If successful, we will be able to assess whether social media can be a proxy for on-the-ground presence by reporters in areas with broadband access. In addition, the postcard news strategy will help us determine if this format will keep residents informed on local issues. These innovations driving editorial content coupled with easy access to radio broadcasts reports will create a more informed and vocal public in Ohio’s rural regions. The genuine effort to build a rapport in these communities will help build personal experiences of trust and understand between journalists and people in rural America.

We will measure the volume of news produced out of each region and against prior content. In addition, we will do a pre- and post-experiment survey of the residents in the selected geographies to determine whether they feel more informed about local issues after our intervention.

How is this project unique and innovative?

Southeastern Ohio has limited broadband access. Nearly 3.5 million residents lack high-speed internet service. For many counties, more than 50 percent of their rural population lack access to broadband services. Limited broadband, the cost and lack local content all prevent rural residents from fully using online news services. For some, radio is the only window into the world and their local lives that is accessible and free.

We want to provide a news and information service even in a media desert. Our remote reporter lab would allow student reporters at Ohio University to cover towns near and far. Our students will first learn ethnographic and mapping skills to create a local dashboard of information, key residents, library resources and other information sources. Students will monitor social media in these mapped geography for leads, follow up with local residents and create podcasts and multimedia packages to air on public media WOUB-FM and on WOUB.org. For our local residents without broadband access, we will create a weekly news print postcard that provides news briefs and directs residents to online and on-air local news.

Our remote reporter labs could lead to more communities getting the coverage they deserve and create a sustainable model for higher education institutions looking to support the communities around them. Student journalists can grow their skills in new technologies and experiment with a new model for local journalism.

What technology platforms will you use?

We will be using Banjo and CrowdTangle to geosource our social media news, along with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. We will also use audio and other news-producing technologies at WOUB to create the audio packages. We will use Adobe InDesign to create the postcard direct-mail pieces.

If it works, how might this experiment change teaching at your school or media practices in your partner’s newsroom?

We expect to expand our undergraduate and graduate curriculum to look at new skills in community assessment and auditing, community mapping using GIS technologies, ethnography and community engagement. We see this development as critical to the role of local journalism in benefiting underserved communities. WOUB hopes these experiments both online and in print will deepen awareness of public media in rural Appalachia and illustrate new approaches to news and community engagement to a geographically dispersed Ohioan audiences.

The Ohio University team provided an update on its project in a March 2018 report.

Update: What have you discovered?

That the complexities of geography and distance, land features and history as well as current technological deficits such as broadband, all combine to create unique “microbiomes” of local assets and media ecosystems. Our ethnography work was key to understanding and appreciating the differences of each of the counties in which we did our work.

We also discovered that no one social media monitoring tool is sufficient for the job. We used Krzana, Hootsuite, Banjo, Google Alerts and Paper.li as social sourcing tools. We found that even in proximate geographies using similar keywords, that algorithms matter. Data sources matter. Understanding “under the hood” workings of the tools and comparing their output helped students better understand and appreciate that social listening must also be triangulated from multiple sources.