How ICONN began

By Jim Stovall

The idea of ICONN sprang from a conversation that Staci Baird and I had toward the end of 2007.

Staci had been instrumental in the development of Ochs, the content management system for the Tennessee Journalist <tnjn.com>, and that system had been the pole that had vaulted UT’s web journalism program high in the minds of the students.

I had been telling Staci that what had been happening at Tennessee — a fantastic student-operated news web site with lots of excellent and creatively produced content — was something that could happen at other campuses, and I had come up with the idea of giving the CMS away to any academic program that wanted to begin such site.

She seemed to think that was a good idea and said that if enough schools took it up, we should form a network of some kind. The conversation then accelerated with a bunch of ideas:

  • sharing content
  • mutual support
  • collaborating on story ideas from campus to campus
  • meetings to train people and exchange ideas

It was one of those conversations. You’ve probably had them yourself.

After thinking about it for a couple of more weeks, I called my friend Cully Clark, dean of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. Cully had been the dean during my final years at Alabama, and I knew that he wanted to lead the Georgia program in the same direction that Tennessee was going.

I told him about what had happened at Tennessee, and I offered to give him Ochs. I also told him about the network. His reaction was immediately positive on both counts.

And that reaction was the first of many similar reactions after conversations with people in the early part of 2008. One of those conversations was with Steve Klein at George Mason University. Steve had many questions about how this who thing would work, but during our conversation, I could tell the idea was growing on him. Steve became one of the idea’s biggest supporters.

Another of those of those conversations was with Lyn Lepre at Marist College. Lyn had been in the office next to mine at the University of Tennessee before she left to move north. She had watched the development of the Tennessee Journalist, and she called to say the folks at Marist wanted to re-direct their journalism and communications program. When I told her what I had in mind, she immediately joined up.

The story of those three conversations was repeated again and again as I talked with other people about these ideas. The idea of an association of campus news web sites that would tie together not just the sites themselves but the faculty, students and professionals that had interested in this area is one whose time has come.

(January 31, 2009)

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