NKU student reporting tells stories of Newport's vibrant west side

For immediate release…
Tuesday – June 18, 2013

- Where in Greater Cincinnati is there a neighborhood with a thriving community theater, a chocolate store in such demand that it outgrew its production space and an after-school club where kids can barely wait for the doors to open?

Newport’s west side is such a neighborhood, as students in two Northern Kentucky University classes discovered this spring when they fanned out to learn more about “census tract 505” and to tell stories about its people and places.

Students in an NKU public relations writing class needed to learn feature writing, and to do so Dr. Zach Hart assigned them to find feature stories from Newport’s west side. Each student partnered with a student from an NKU photojournalism class, who in turn took photos to illustrate the stories.

A three-judge panel of professional journalists selected the three top stories from the collaboration, and they were published in a statewide online newspaper based in Lexington. The published pieces tell the stories of Newport’s Buenger Boys and Girls Club (written by Hope Cutter), Sweet Tooth Candies (written by Kelsey Patterson) and Stained Glass Theatre (written by Kelly Trumbo and Jessica Wilson). They are available at:

Cutter’s story on the Buenger Boys and Girls Club was judged best, and the senior public relations and communication studies major from Cold Spring earned a $300 prize.

“Together, these stories paint a picture of the west side that differs from the stereotype of a poorer, inner-city neighborhood,” said Judy Clabes, editor and publisher of KyForward. “These are stores of resilience, entrepreneurship and energy. They show off the west side’s vitality and its diverse array of businesses and institutions. We were delighted to bring these stories to a statewide audience. KyFoward’s mission is to connect Kentucky’s many regions through this kind of storytelling. The students who wrote these stories ‘get it’ – that a community is about its people and places.”

Dr. Hart said the opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the real world was also a teaching advantage. “The 505 project provided my class with an invaluable experience,” he said. “They learned so much about the vibrant and fascinating Newport neighborhood while gaining excellent feature writing experience that told the community’s story.”

The stories are part of a larger effort this year by NKU to connect some classes to Newport’s west side as part of Project Hope, a regional initiative of the Greater Cincinnati Service Learning Network. The network is a consortium of educators and others working to increase the quality and quantity of service learning in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati.

With Project Hope, universities and colleges are focused on the region’s neediest neighborhoods as identified by census data, including household income, home ownership, educational levels and other measures. Census tract 505 is among northern Kentucky’s neediest by those measures; it is the core census tract in Newport’s west side, which is among northern Kentucky’s oldest communities.

“The west side is a great neighborhood,” said Mark Neikirk, executive director of the NKU Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, which is coordinating Project Hope for NKU. “It’s a place with challenges, to be sure. But also it is a place where the residents care deeply about the welfare of their streets, their homes, their parks, their churches. For our students, the west side is a live learning lab where they are inspired by the people they meet. The west side has become an extension of our classrooms.”

More than 15 NKU classes engaged in projects in the west side during the spring semester and more will be connecting with the neighborhood this summer and fall.

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