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  • May 4, 2024
  • Marketing and Communications staff

When Chautauqua Matters convenes next fall for the first time, it will mark a new approach in teaching journalism and community engagement at SUNY Fredonia.

The class, “COMM 359: Chautauqua Matters,” is the university's first attempt at putting students into the field in the community as part of the State University of New York's Institute for Local News (ILN).

The goal of the ILN is to engage students in university-led reporting programs with local media partners to bolster local news coverage while giving students real-world learning experiences in multimedia storytelling and communication.

The course will be taught by Department of Communication Associate Professor Elmer Ploetz, who brings a background in print journalism, online news and documentary production to the class.

The ILN is supporting classes at SUNY institutions from Long Island (Stony Brook) to Fredonia in the first such system-wide effort in the nation.

“Chautauqua DOES matter, and so do communities across the state and the nation who are increasingly going without coverage of their communities, their government, their neighbors and their issues,” said Lane Filler, chief communications officer for the SUNY system. He is also a former reporter and columnist with Newsday. 

“Courses like these are exactly what SUNY’s Institute for Local News was established to support, because of the support such programs give the students who learn crucial skills, the news outlets that get crucial content, and the communities that enjoy crucial coverage,” Filler said.

The ILN program, which was launched just this year, is modeled on others from around the nation and is spearheaded by Richard Watts, the founder of the Center for Community News out of the University of Vermont. He's a nationally recognized expert on student/professional collaboration.

“Chautauqua Matters is a critically important course at this moment in our history. Students learn real skills, build their networks and test what it is like to be a reporter while local news organizations get needed stories to fill struggling news gaps," Watts said. "Across the country, more colleges and universities are building courses like this to engage our students and shore up democracy.”

The stories the class produces will be offered to local media outlets for use to augment the outlets' own coverage.

As envisioned by Associate Professor Ploetz, the class will be interdisciplinary in nature as students identify areas of life in Chautauqua County that are not being covered in day-to-day local news media, research those areas and produce stories/news reports taking in-depth looks at the topics.

Potential topics for the course to explore include healthcare availability in the region, economic development issues, and the evolution of the opioid crisis, but the topics will ultimately be decided by the class itself as it explores what issues it can address.

“I'm excited about this class. It's a chance to do something that hasn't been done before here," said Ploetz, “and I'm looking forward to working with students from across the academic spectrum.

“It should be noted that while the class will focus on local issues, students don't have to be from the immediate area. In fact, many of the issues we look at may be common to many areas across the state and country.”

Registration for the class is still open. For more information, contact Ploetz via email.