The Journalism Center on Children & Families will close its doors after two decades of dedication to “ensuring that the issues that affect children and families, particularly disadvantaged kids and families in the U.S., get regular and excellent coverage,” JCCF Director Julie Drizin said.
Drizin announced Oct. 15 that the Annie E. Casey Foundation will discontinue funding at the end of this year for the center, which is probably most widely known for Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, its award program for the best reporting on children and families.
The center was not permitted funding for the awards program this year.
“When they told us what funding we were going to get for this calendar year, it was a drop from the previous year,” Drizin said. “I asked them point-blank will they be funding us in 2015, and they said ‘no.’”
Located on the third floor of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at this university, the center strives to train reporters on covering children and families.
“What we do is we’re the middle person essentially between the journalist and the public, and that kind of advocacy you don’t really find anywhere else especially when it comes to such broad issues like children and poverty and diversity,” said Fatimah Waseem, a senior journalism and government and politics major and editorial intern at JCCF.
The center’s website offers a variety of training modules for how to report on difficult subject matters such as sexual child abuse and fatalities.
Drizin said she began searching for funding as soon as she was informed of the center’s budget and found enough money to pursue individual projects and keep the center open for this year.
One of those projects will launch this fall – JCCF received a grant from the National Association of Social Workers to produce LIFELines: Stories from the Human Safety Net, a collection of diverse and originally reported stories to be posted online.
However, in Drizin’s three-year tenure, she said she is most proud of a class she created on covering children and families. She said she wants to encourage students “to explore issues of diversity, difference and inequality in the country.”
“When you look at those issues through the eyes and experiences of children, you can’t help but recognize deep social change is required,” Drizin said.
Catherine Sheffo, a junior multiplatform journalism major and student in Drizin’s class, said those issues that affect children and families are not exclusive to that group.
“We all used to be children, and we all have families so where it seems like it’s kind of a niche type of reporting its actually reporting on issues that affect everybody,” Sheffo said.
Drizin also said she emphasizes the role of empathy and compassion in journalism. Most journalists want to make change in the world, and advocacy journalism is “only bad if the cause is more important than the truth,” she said.
“Journalism has a fierce commitment to independence and what I consider to be an unattainable embrace of objectivity,” Drizin said. “When journalists are so removed, they’re actually above and beyond. They dehumanize themselves by trying to stay completely objective, which is not even possible.”
Sheffo said while it’s important to be careful to not cross that ethical line, a level of empathy and compassion is necessary.
“You have to remember that the people you are reporting on – you need them for stories, but they don’t owe you anything,” Sheffo said. “You can’t exploit people when you’re working with them.”
Drizin said while she understands some levels of involvement can pose a problem for journalists, it can also “strengthen” and “inform” a journalist’s work.
She said that, unfortunately, reporting on children and families has continued to shrink with the budgets of news organizations.
While technology has helped to expand coverage of children and families with “mommy bloggers,” blogging can’t replace journalism, she said.
Waseem said she hopes the center’s work will continue to push journalists to address the hard-to-talk-about issues and pursue big ideas in their daily reporting. She knows she will be thinking about those issues when she enters a newsroom, she said.
Jordan Branch is a junior multiplatform journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at email@example.com.