David Boardman, dean of the School of Media and Communication, thinks that local journalists have a greater responsibility to serve the public in this year’s Philadelphia mayoral race.
“This mayor’s race is rather late-developing,” Boardman said. “There are a lot of candidates, it’s a wide-open field … there was a sense that the journalistic community had to get special resources and attention to this in order to really serve the public. If it was just the standard horse-race sort of coverage, we would have really shorted people.”
In order to provide the public with more in-depth coverage, Temple’s Center for Public Interest Journalism is partnering with several other local media outlets to form “The Next Mayor,” a website that will feature content from various news organizations that will delve deep into political issues surrounding Philadelphia.
Some of the organizations include the Inquirer, Daily News, philly.com, WHYY and The Committee of Seventy, who will all publish content on nextmayor.philly.com.
Boardman said the project is being made possible because of the Wyncote Foundation, which donated $350,000 to help start the website. He added that David Haas, who serves on the foundation’s board of directors, was specifically involved in the creation of Next Mayor Philly.
“[Haas] has a great interest in civil engagement, public service and what’s happening to journalism in the changing environment,” Boardman said. “The original idea came from him.”
Temple’s role in the project will involve incorporating classes within SMC into the project and its coverage, Boardman said. One course that will be involved is Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the capstone course program in SMC’s journalism department.
George Miller, director of Philadelphia Neighborhoods, said that while this isn’t the first time a collaborative project has been created to help cover the mayoral race, it’s the first time Temple has been involved.
He added that Philadelphia Neighborhoods’ role in the project will include reporting in communities throughout the city and asking what citizens want from the next mayor of Philadelphia.
“We have 38 teams of students who are in communities, whether they’re geographic or thematic,” Miller said. “And they’re talking to people about the impact of government on their communities and what are the issues facing those communities … the Daily News, WHYY, they’re going to be doing more of the mayor’s race [coverage] … but I think where we come in, our strength is the community reporting.”
Outside of the community reporting, one group of students is working on the City Hall beat for the course and “The Next Mayor” project, Miller said. Senior journalism majors Jade Perry and Megan Whelan both cover the inner workings of Philadelphia’s central political hub.
Perry said one of the challenges of the beat for the class is how busy political figures are around this time.
“A big challenge is people are so busy … people don’t have the time, they’re so busy, they have other stuff going on,” she said. “You kind of forget, these are people’s full-time jobs, they work from 9 to 5 … you have to respect them because of that.”
Perry, who said she has worked in politics for the past couple of years, added that she hopes the project shows the public how complex the mayoral race really is.
Whelan said another challenge for Perry and herself is managing classwork while still producing strong content.
“The biggest challenge for us is time, because with this class, you’re working on four stories at once,” Whelan said. “You’re juggling a lot of stuff, but still trying to make sure you produce quality journalism.”
One of the best parts about “The Next Mayor” is giving a voice to those that normally may not have one, she added.
“It’s really cool to see the neighborhoods that aren’t [usually] getting that media coverage,” Whelan said. “Hearing from those in North and West Philly and what they think is important. … Aside from voting, you might not always get to see that input and perspective … so just seeing that the race gets covered in that way is pretty cool.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Steve_Bohnel