New fund established to benefit journalism students

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The Oxford Observer benefits from a new fund that will help keep Oxford from becoming a news desert.

By Emily Gentry

The Oxford Community Foundation, through the generosity of a group of local donors, is supporting local journalism opportunities for Miami University students while benefiting the entire community through the establishment of the Oxford Area Journalism Fund.

The donors are three long-time Miami professors, Richard Campbell, James Rubenstein and John Skillings, who have agreed to contribute $10,000 per year to the fund over the next five years. The money will pass through the foundation and be used to support local journalism. The money will help to fund the Oxford Observer, a free online local news site operated under the auspices of Miami’s Department of Media, Journalism & Film (MJF).

As local newspapers have declined, so has news coverage of local news, leading to the development of news deserts. A news desert is an area that receives little regular reporting about its public life and institutions. 

The aim of the fund is to keep that from happening in Oxford.

“The Oxford Observer is a win-win for the university and the community” said Rubenstein, adjunct professor emeritus in the Department of Geography. The community gets regular coverage of the city and its surrounding area provided by Miami students under the direction of faculty from MJF. The university benefits from a stable source of funding that helps to cover student internships and other costs of producing the Observer between semesters in the summer and in January.

With the loss of its freestanding local newspaper in recent years, Oxford coverage was reduced to a few stories in the media of surrounding communities such as Hamilton and Cincinnati, as well as the campus-oriented The Miami Student.  

“Oxford was left without much news,” said Patricia Newberry, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists and coordinator of journalism in Miami’s MJF Department.

The flow-through agreement with the foundation was created in late 2017 but with the new donations, it was revised last week. 

“It’s taken us a minute to get it right but universities are uniquely positioned to pick up slack and cover the communities if they find themselves in a news desert,” said Newberry. “I couldn’t be prouder of this team. It benefits both the students and the community. Students are covering real stories in real-time.”

The United States has lost almost 1,800 newspapers since 2004 according to The Expanding News Desert. This new fund works to prevent Oxford from joining this demographic. 

“Who’s gonna tell the stories of small communities?” said Campbell, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film. He said he believes that it’s more important than ever to ensure everyone is informed with credible news coverage and given a place to voice concerns.