The WVU P.I. Reed School of Journalism launched a project last month that could help strengthen rural communities in West Virginia and beyond.
Led by Assistant Professor Dana Coester, the Mobile Main Street project is an initiative to engage small-community organizations, businesses and media in mobile app development and marketing to help fuel economic development in local communities.
Designed to be a community publishing experience, Mobile Main Street harnesses local Twitter, Facebook and other social media activity to help curate a community voice with content relevant to each community.
The project began as an extension of the school’s West Virginia Uncovered project to help rural newspapers throughout the state transition to the digital age through content production, training and technology support.
In the first iteration of the mobile initiative, the school partnered with The Parsons Advocate, a weekly newspaper in Tucker County, to pilot the first app. The first app showcased the county’s natural attractions to enable community members to promote their business and, in turn, boost tourism dollars to the area.
Coester says the app can help strengthen media like the Advocate by providing new sources of revenue to supplement traditional advertising.
“Through this model, the media organization can begin to reclaim its role as the vehicle for commerce and, in a sense, the hub of rural economic development,” said Coester. “Local businesses and community organizations can sign on to Mobile Main Street and provide specialized content to mobile users — those perhaps not reached by traditional advertising alone. And the individual members are more engaged in the wider conversation about their communities.”
School of Journalism Dean Maryanne Reed says the project also provides a unique learning lab for students.
“Mobile Main Street is another example of a project through which students are learning by doing,” said Reed. “They’re tackling new forms of media, engaging audiences in the digital space and — perhaps most importantly — learning the value of giving back to the communities in which they work and live.”
Sen. Jay Rockefeller declared the initiative a winner in a recent press release.
“By bringing community members, news outlets, small businesses and local organizations together, this initiative is taking the extraordinary step of connecting us all with new technologies and new opportunities,” Rockefeller said. “I’m excited about the program, and hope everyone will get involved in creating a new future for West Virginia.”
To date, the project has received a total of $250,000 in grant funding, beginning with a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation in February 2011 to deploy the pilot app and to research its impact. Earlier this year, the school received additional grants from Verizon, the Verizon Foundation and CTIA — The Wireless Association to expand efforts into additional communities and to begin development of the free-ware application.
“CTIA is extremely pleased to support the West Virginia University School of Journalism’s Mobile Main Street initiative, as it provides rural areas a unique opportunity to use the power of mobile technology to create more cohesive and sustainable communities,” said John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA.
Mark Frazier, president of Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia Region at Verizon Wireless, says Mobile Main Street is a progressive project that can have tremendous benefits for West Virginia.
“We at Verizon value forward-thinking initiatives such as Mobile Main Street,” said Frazier. “West Virginia University has developed a breakthrough project that will encourage innovation and help strengthen rural communities in West Virginia now and in the future. As a leader in mobile technology, Verizon is happy to support this project, and we look forward to its continued growth and impact on this community and beyond.”
Ultimately, Coester’s vision is for Mobile Main Street to serve as a platform for community groups and businesses to reach new audiences, an alternative revenue stream for local media and a technology-transfer project for the School of Journalism.
“We hope to see apps powered by Mobile Main Street across multiple rural communities before this project is done,” said Coester. “Mobile Main Street is engineered to be a flexible mobile publishing system that enables small communities, businesses and media organizations with limited resources to early adopt and become part of the mobile economy.”
Since its inception, Mobile Main Street has grown to include five pilot partners: Tucker and McDowell counties; Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine in Stumptown; The Hampshire Review in Romney; and the Spirit of Jefferson in Shepherdstown.
Now, the project is hosting a competition to select its sixth partner.
Through a competitive process, the School of Journalism will select a sixth partner to join its Mobile Main Street project. To compete for selection, community members can complete an online application through the project website. Through the competition, Mobile Main Street will provide tools for the selected community group to launch a mobile-exclusive site and native app for Android and iOS mobile to help stimulate economic activity in their community and to help community members adversely affected by the digital divide gain access to mobile media tools.
The competition is ideal for:
— Community media and newspapers
— Buy Local initiatives
— Artist cooperatives
— Community bloggers
— Chambers of Commerce
— Convention and Visitors Bureaus
— Historical and geo-tourism groups
— Community foundations
— Other community-based interest groups
Mobile Main Street is accepting applications through Oct. 15. For the winning pilot community, there is no cost for participating in the project, attending workshops or using any of the community-based mobile media tools.
For more information about the Mobile Main Street project, visit http://mymobilemainstreet.com/.