Local media outlets hope to bolster arts coverage via $20,000 grant

Arts journalism nationwide has taken a beating during the recession, but a group of Charlotte media outlets including the Observer hopes to help reverse the trend with the aid of a $20,000 grant announced Monday.

The project is one of five across the United States being backed by the National Endowment for the Arts and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The projects are finalists in the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, which is looking for ways to use technology "to reach new audiences and ... engage people in new ways," said the foundation's vice president, Dennis Scholl, on Monday.

The Charlotte organizations envision working with UNC Charlotte to create the Charlotte Arts Alliance, which would use citizen journalists and students to create arts coverage that would appear across media platforms and in a mobile app. The other media outlets in the project are WCNC-TV; WFAE-FM, the NPR news station; CharlotteViewpoint .org , a civic and cultural magazine; and Qcitymetro.com, a site primarily covering the African-American community.

"It's about a common purpose," Observer editor Rick Thames said Monday. "We are unable to give the coverage we would like to what is ... a growing arts community," Thames said.

The five projects are receiving up to $20,000 apiece to flesh out their plans, the foundation said.

The Charlotte group hopes to use some of its planning money to produce a few stories this fall, said Jennifer Rothacker, the Observer's innovations editor.

The other projects:

In Detroit, iCritic Detroit aims to have a mobile video booth in which audience members will record reviews to be posted on websites and shared via social media.

In Miami, ArtSpotMiami plans to create an online marketplace and app through which citizen journalists propose stories about the local arts scene. The public would pay for the stories they like, and the citizen journalists would work with traditional media to produce the stories.

In Philadelphia, students and faculty from Drexel University would work with the Philadelphia Daily News to expand the paper's arts coverage.

In San Jose, Calif., Silicon Valley Arts Technica envisions a three-part endeavor: a mapping component to highlight arts events; a mobile app allowing users to add comments, reviews and images; and a series of investigative stories about arts funding in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

By the end of November, the groups will present their fleshed-out proposals to the foundation and NEA. Up to three of the projects will receive up to $80,000 each to put their plans into action. Winners will be announced next spring.

The five projects "demonstrate creative thinking in ways to keep local cultural coverage enlightening, engaging and sustainable," Scholl said in a statement. "They seized the opportunity the digital age offers."