Check out the student-created Access U

Students in the community journalism class meet new challenge.

Professional journalism students got first-hand experience with a community news organization – by doing nothing less than creating one of their own.

As part of the Brovald-Sim Community Journalism Practicum in the spring 2017 semester, students created an online news site for the disabled community at the University of Minnesota. The site, called Access U, was the main project of Jour 4193, a class that has previously tried other models of integrating students with community news coverage.

“This year we decided on a different approach, one that would diversify the experience,” said Gayle Golden, senior lecturer, who taught the course. “We asked the class to pool their talents to create their own news site for a community in or near campus. It worked beautifully.”

After considering several possible communities, and getting advice from editors of community news organizations, the students decided on a mission statement for a site that would “connect students with disabilities by sharing stories about all aspects of life while also furthering discussion around access and stigma.”

The students began fanning out to meet members of that community and figure out what matters to them – no small task, as it turned out. Some disabled students were wary and unaccustomed to attention.

But as the class persisted, their ground-up reporting ultimately opened avenues of trust and connection. “Despite obstacles, when we ran into sources who would help, that allowed us to step into the community and see things from that angle. It was amazing to me,” said Barney Min, Access U’s web editor.

Among the stories on the site are profiles of faculty and staff dedicated to mental health awareness or technology accessibility, features on blind and deaf students, disabled athletes, campus transition difficulties, mottled building access, service animals, and a running list of stories from many sources on disability issues. The site also engages on Facebook and Twitter.

For student Chris Lemke, the community choice was even more meaningful than the many reporting skills he learned. “We chose a community of those who often don’t have a voice or who could use one,” he said. KFAI’s show “Disabled and Proud” invited the students to appear in June to discuss the experience. Visit Access U to see the students’ work.

Screenshot of Access U website