Debbie Blankenship Named Director of Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism
Friday, February 8th, 2019
Debbie Blankenship, who has served as interim director of Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ) since July 2017, has been named director of the Center, effective immediately.
“After a national search, it became clear to the search committee that we had the best qualified candidate right here,” said Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson, dean of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts. “This is an exciting time for the Center for Collaborative Journalism to build on a strong foundation and explore new directions. I know that Debbie will be an excellent leader to shepherd this process.”
Blankenship is the CCJ’s second director, following Tim Regan-Porter, who accepted a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship for the 2017-2018 academic year at Stanford University and was named editor for McClatchy’s South Region in June 2018.
As interim director, Blankenship managed media partnerships with Georgia Public Broadcasting and The Telegraph in Macon and integrated new partner 13WMAZ into the Center’s programming. She was also tasked with meeting the requirements of $2 million in new funding from the John S. and James. L Knight Foundation, which was received by the CCJ in July 2017 to expand the Center’s efforts.
Blankenship previously served as visiting assistant professor and journalist-in-residence at Mercer since 2013. She coordinated practical experience with the CCJ’s media partners, taught courses with emphases in writing, community engagement and service-learning, and coordinated community engagement projects such as the Center’s “Macon in the Mirror” project, which won Georgia Press Association awards for Community Service and Best Online News Project and was named a finalist for McClatchy’s President’s Award.
Prior to that, Blankenship served for nearly eight years as a congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall and for more than three years as a reporter at The Telegraphfocusing on the courts and criminal justice system. She also spent a year as a reporter for The Item in Sumter, South Carolina.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in graphic communications from Clemson University. She went on to earn her master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Georgia, where she also served as news editor of The Red & Black.
“I’m very excited to build on the successes of the Center,” said Blankenship. “Trusted information and good reporting are more crucial than ever in today’s world, and we will continue teaching students those necessary skills while strengthening local news for the community.”
Established in 2012 with $5.7 million in funding from Knight Foundation and the Peyton Anderson Foundation, the Center for Collaborative Journalism is a unique partnership between Mercer’s Journalism and Media Studies Department, The Telegraph, GPB and 13WMAZ.
The prototype brings students, faculty and veteran journalists together in a joint newsroom located in Mercer Village. Learning in a “teaching hospital” model, students and professional journalists work together to deliver strong local reporting and engage members of the community around issues of local concern. The collaboration has led to in-depth coverage of important issues and allowed students to use the latest digital tools and graduate with a portfolio of published work that gives them an edge in a rapidly changing field.
Since 2012, CCJ students have published more than 1,000 stories for its local media partners and produced content for National Public Radio, The Associated Press, ESPN and other regional and national media outlets. Last year alone, students logged 2,400 hours in local newsrooms.
The Center has also completed several major, award-winning community engagement projects. “Macon in the Mirror” featured more than 600 interviews with Bibb County residents and resulted in a nine-part series in The Telegraph and on GPB. A seven-part series on residential blight influenced the local government to allocate $14 million for blight remediation. Additional student-led series contributed to the formation of a community task force on pedestrian safety and investigated the reasons behind and implications of the resegregation of public schools in Bibb County. The CCJ’s current project, “Macon Food Story,” explores the history and culture of Southern food, as well as health and food access in the South.