The Durham VOICE is a publication inspired by the most unlikely of events. After a murder in 2008 in the nearby city of Durham, N.C., journalism students at the University of North Carolina decided they wanted to bring positive energy to the community.
“Chapel Hill is a university bubble. There’s no crime. But, 9 miles away is this gritty industrial city of Durham,” said University of North Carolina Senior Lecturer, Jock Lauterer.
It took a year and a half of community organizing before he was able to get “all [his] ducks in a row.”
The parallel between Chapel Hill and Duluth, and Durham and Lincoln Park was astounding. His described his class as a bunch of “white-boy do-gooders” stepping into an impoverished place where they may not be able to relate to the population.
“95% of my students are white,” he said.
In order to gain better trust from the neighboring community members, Lauterer reached out to a neighboring black-majority college. He was able to collaborate with the journalism class and get them on board with the project.
“Our integrated staff could then go in the high schools without feeling invasive,” Lauterer said.
His class asked students and staff questions like: How can we serve you? What is it that you need that we can bring?
“The approach is more important than the product.”- Jock Lauterer
Then, he promise to stick around.
“It’s important not be a parachute journalist,” he said.
First, the journalism students suggested a newspaper club. But, it turned out students didn’t have interest since some were unfamiliar with the subject. Instead, students were interested in taking pictures and learning photography.
Empathy played a key role in earning students trust and getting them engaged.
“It’s not ours, it’s yours,” he reiterated to the high school students.
We had no readers after our “soft launch.”
“Then we realized we need to have a print. We went print. That was the magic.”
After a year and a half of gaining enough social capital to keep their publication afloat, VOICE became a bi-weekly online and a monthly 16-page tabloid with 60 different drop spots.
Without organizations like the Boys and Girls club, the Parks and Recreation committee and the generous grant of $25,000 from the Z. Smith reynolds Foundation, Voice wouldn’t have survived.
How do you prove you’re making a positive impact?
“I know we’re doing good, but it’s not convincing to a foundation. They need numbers,” he said.
“This takes another professor or a grad student who is trained in this expertise. In 2 years we will have great data that we can bring to the foundation and say ‘give us your money.'”