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Kansas j-school students provide news coverage for local city’s “news desert”

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Eudora, Kansas, is a city of some 6,100 residents located between Lawrence and the Kansas City metropolitan area that can boast of easy access to waterways, highways and airports. It counts among its notable citizens the late actor Hugh Beaumont who played Ward Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver” and the 1968 Miss America Debra Barnes who was crowned as feminists marched in protest on the Atlantic City boardwalk.

What Eudora, Kansas, doesn’t have is a local newspaper.

After being revived in 1989 by a local couple, the Eudora News closed for good in 2010.

But now University of Kansas students from the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications have stepped in to provide coverage for this news desert.

Eudora is just 10 miles from the campus, a university member of Inland, and an opportunity to give j-school students real-life experience covering the government, local businesses, sports, schools and features of the city.

Teri Finneman, an assistant professor of journalism, took charge of the initiative, asking Eudora’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to revamp the page Eudora Events after learning that the community no longer had a local newspaper.

“I couldn’t believe it. I immediately decided I wanted to do something about it, so I ended up reaching out to the city to see what we could do to get something off the ground,” Finneman said.

Now students in social media and reporting classes are providing coverage on the bureau’s Facebook page, and in a new Eudora Times new site at https://eudoratimes.wixisite.com/news.

The local reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with likes, shares and other metrics jumping.

“It became apparent very quickly how much people in the city wanted to see coverage of what’s going on there,” Finneman said. “The numbers were good, so I decided to bring in the reporting class, too.”

According to a press release from the school: “The class has written and published features on local businesses such as a new coffeehouse and food truck specializing in desserts; school events, including a class building a house in the community and students traveling to Ecuador to learn about conservation; and community topics such as a fundraising campaign for a new library and the local Scout troop’s anniversary.”

Nearly 1,000—nearly a fifth of the entire city’s population—have liked the page.

While the project is part of a class, students said it’s meant more than turning in an assignment for a grade. Riley Wilson, a reporting student, told UK that the idea of covering Eudora reminded her of her hometown of Wamego.

“I think small towns have a lot of interesting aspects that people don’t know about because there’s not good news circulation, and I think small towns are really interesting and have good stories to tell,” Wilson said. “The experience of writing for the Eudora Times is the first time a story I wrote has been seen by people other than my professor. What I like most about the project is really just talking to the people of Eudora. They’ve all been so excited to talk and tell their story. It really is fun every time I go to Eudora to do a story.”

“This has been a more immersive experience than what I’ve had in other classes. I feel like with this experience, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more by doing,” Lucie Krisman, a reporting student, told the UK public relations team. “I’m getting valuable hands-on experience that will help me a lot in the future, and I’ve been learning how to work around obstacles that I didn’t know how to overcome as early as last semester, which is awesome.”

Emily Bradbury, director of the Kansas Press Association, said the association is excited and supportive of the project.

“The Kansas Press Association has always valued our partnership with the William Allen White School of Journalism. “We are always learning from our members — and this will be no exception,” she said.

“What’s great about this for students is I’m somebody who hates canned exercises in class and am a proponent of getting off campus and doing the job—and employers want to know students really can do the job,” Finneman said.