The University of Miami School of Communication, following the university-wide theme of giving back to the community, began an online community newspaper this semester to serve the mostly low-income residents who live in the western part of Coconut Grove.
The Web site, titled the Grand Avenue News, uses student reporters, photographers, videographers and web designers to document many aspects of life in the area now known as the Village West.
“There was a definite need for a paper like this,” said assistant professor Kim Grinfeder, founder of Grand Avenue News. “It’s a unifying factor in a community.”
Jihad Rashid, president and CEO of Coconut Collaborate Inc. and a resident of Village West, agrees.
“The community will benefit and enjoy this new form of news. We’re becoming more digital and keeping up with the wave of the new world,” he said.
Topics include news about families who live in the predominantly African-American community, education, politics, business and religion. There are also sections dedicated to photos and videos, as well as a village directory.
“We’ve had a positive reaction from the residents of the West Grove,” Grinfeder said. “They like being covered and businesses have enjoyed having articles written about them.”
The Web site, grandavenews.com, was launched about a month ago to cover the community, where unemployment ranges from 16 to 20 percent and approximately 80 percent of the residents do not own their own home.
Grinfeder said the idea to start the online community paper sprang from a visual journalism project last fall in which student journalists used the web to cover the joy and excitement in the Village West when Barack Obama was elected.
“When we went to interview them, we realized that the community was fragmented and needed information,” Grinfeder said. “Access of information provides a better life.”
Grinfeder and other communication professors teamed up their students to provide neighborhood news to the residents of the Village West, one of the oldest and most historic sections of Miami.
Some of the earliest settlers of the West Grove area were from the Bahamas. The Grand Avenue News, named for the main street that runs through the neighborhood, recognizes the strong ties to the island nation by carrying links to Bahamian news, as well as local news from The Miami Herald.
“A project like this gives students a real sense of what the world is like outside of campus,” said associate professor Tsitsi Wakhisi, who is supervising the reporting teams. “It gives them a chance to deal with real people who have real stories that aren’t always pleasant.”
Paul Franz, a graduate student and grandavenews.com writer and photographer, said working off campus has been a great experience.
“It’s fun to do because it’s a challenge; the people there don’t trust outsiders,” he said. “People have come in and taken advantage of them and made them look bad in interviews, so we’re just interested in gaining trust and making them look good as a community.”
Franz is one of more than 50 contributing writers, photographers and videographers covering the Village West beat. Submissions from other students, faculty and even local residents are highly encouraged.
The ultimate goal, Grinfeder said, is to have grandavenews.com become a community-run Web site. For now though, the project is funded by a $17,000 ‘New Voices’ grant that Grinfeder received from J-Lab at American University in Washington, D.C.
He is also seeking more grants to help expand the Grand Avenue News through advertising, sponsorships and community partnerships. Grinfeder says he is considering putting out an occasional print version in the future, because many of the residents do not have home computers.
UM students not only cover the news, but some of them also donate their time to teach some of the young residents of Village West about photography and videography.
“Journalism without a point or a cause is very unfulfilling,” Franz said. “We’re trying to make a difference and bring social change and attention to the people and places in the West Grove.”
Rebecca Zimmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.