University of South Florida


Telling a community’s story: New media partnership provides USF journalism students field reporting experience

An obelisk erected on the roundabout at 22nd Ave. North in East Tampa's College Hill neighborhood

An obelisk erected on the roundabout at 22nd Ave. North in East Tampa's College Hill neighborhood. Credit: Wayne Garcia, USF

A new collaboration between the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications and 83 Degrees Media is giving undergraduate students the chance to tell the stories of a Tampa community while gaining valuable work experience.

The project focuses on telling stories about the grassroots efforts led by people and organizations working toward transformative change in East Tampa, a historic, but often under-reported on Tampa Bay community. Wayne Garcia, a journalism instructor and former director of the Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications, says it’s a great opportunity for their students to gain real experience as journalists, add published work to their portfolios and make an impact.

“This project is really about finding the difference makers,” Garcia said. “We’re really focusing on solutions journalism, so students are talking to people within the community who are trying to bring positive change and find solutions to some of the issues they are facing.”

Solutions journalism is an approach to news reporting that examines the responses to a variety of social issues and community problems. It is rooted in not just the issues themselves, a common tact in traditional news reporting, but in the evidence-based responses and solutions being utilized to combat those issues. The work is being supported by a grant from the Walmart Foundation through the Solutions Journalism Fund at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

“Our East Tampa storytelling collaboration with professors and students at the Zimmerman School came together through a confluence of ideas and connections as well as funding to make it all happen,” said Diane Egner, publisher and managing editor for 83 Degrees Media. “The feedback thus far has been all positive from all directions — neighborhood residents, USF professors and students, Walmart Foundation, Community Foundation Tampa Bay, Issue Media Group, and, most importantly, readers who are learning things they didn’t know about East Tampa and solutions in urban environments.”

For students, while the project is not tied to their academic progress, it does provide them the chance to gain working experience and earn a paycheck for the articles they submit.

Hanna Toeniskoetter is a USF junior studying integrated public relations and advertising. When she first learned about the project, she knew it would be a great way to add published work to her portfolio and do impactful work in the community. Toeniskoetter has focused her reporting on the arts, speaking with a number of advocates and art curators in East Tampa who are working to bring different outlets and resources to that community.

“It’s such a great opportunity to be able to hopefully bring a voice and exposure to all of the efforts being taken to try and uplift the East Tampa region,” Toeniskoetter said. “It definitely feels good knowing that the work we’re doing might have a positive impact.”

Toeniskoetter has been involved in a number of extracurriculars while at USF and had been searching for something that would allow her to put her passion into practice. After college, she hopes to pursue writing and reporting positions, so this opportunity was a perfect fit for her future.

“I’ve always been a little bit of an introvert, so pushing myself to meet people and conduct interviews as a professional journalist has really been a growing experience for me,” she said. “This has really been a way for me to broaden my horizons as a writer and develop new skills that I can put to use after college.”

USF students have been involved in this project for most of the fall 2021 semester, producing a variety of written, video and podcast/audio stories. While funding for the project is limited, Garcia hopes they can find ways to continue to provide students with this type of experience.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to experience other people’s lives, communities and neighborhoods and to gain confidence in themselves,” Garcia said.

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