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Representative Journalism: A report from the front in Northfield, Minn. / Fri. Dec. 5, noon, RJI Room 203

Bonnie Obremski

Since September, a bold experiment in local journalism has been underway in Northfield, Minn., a small city about a halfhour south of Minneapolis which is home to two colleges, a handful of key businesses, and some tricky municipal issues. It's also the first venue for a test take at the future of community journalism -- "RepJ." Come meet "RepJ" fellowship reporter Bonnie Obremski, on Friday, Dec. 5, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. in RJI Room 200.


Brainchild of Atlanta-area professor

Leonard Witt

"RepJ" is the idea of Leonard Witt, a journalism professor at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, outside Atlanta. Witt, a former newspaper editor and radio producer in Minneapolis, wanted to test the hypothesis that a geographic or topical community might be willing to underwrite quality journalism if the community was carefully consulted, primed and involved in the process.

Enter Bonnie Obremski. After two years as a full-time staff reporter covering a small town for a Massachusetts daily, the North Adams Transcript (circ. 6,800), Obremski, a recent Hampshire College graduate, was ready for a change. In August, she got in her car and drove to a state she had never been to before, to take up residence in Northfield and begin reporting -- via the web -- on Northfield.

Now one-third through a one-year fellowship, Obremski will visit Mizzou Dec. 3-5 to talk about the initial vision of RepJ and how it is working on the ground so far. What's it like to essentially parachute into a community and try to win the minds, hearts -- and pocketbooks -- of the citizenry through quality journalism? How do you navigate the spread between your perception of what the community ought to know vs. what it wants to know? What happens when your editor and boss is 1,500 miles away? Is this idea replicable elsewhere? How does a community react to an outsider?

Obremski offers an overview

Here's how Obremski described RepJ in an email:

"To envision a Representative Journalist, imagine having a local news reporter of your very own; one that lived in your computer, or in the corner cafe. You could observe that reporter collect and assemble data and even contribute to the reporting process yourself, online or in person.

"The Representative Journalism Web site is a place to find news briefs, features, and discussion that, together, aim to reveal something about the intrinsic nature of the city and its people. The format is similar to a blog, but the "RepJ" reporter brings the standards and ethics of traditional journalism to the forum.

The members of the Representative Journalism Project are still refining a model in which communities across the nation will hopefully invest. That model, however, will need to remain flexible in order to adapt to a city's or town's particular needs. Bonnie is looking forward to hearing more ideas from students, faculty and staff about the possibile ways Representative Journalism can grow."

Some potential questions

Here are some questions Obremski may tackle:

  • Why should people be excited about RepJ?
  • How is RepJ working right now in Northfield?
  • What is the community's response to RepJ?
  • What do we hope to achieve in the next few months?
  • Which stories have worked? Which haven't?
  • What is the relationship with the "LocallyGrown" bloggers?
  • From virtual to real: What are the plans and practices for pre-story and post-story outreach?
  • Are you having coffee klatches?
  • How are you getting story ideas?
  • How is this different from reporting for a daily newspaper?
  • What is emerging as next steps to achieve funding or support?

Background links