Creating community connections in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Cedar Rapids, Iowa was hit with one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history this June, when the Cedar River rose past it’s 500-year flood plain to 31.2 feet, flooded 1,300 city blocks, and put most of the downtown area under water.

When we visited the Gazette, Cedar Rapid’s daily paper a few weeks ago, the city was still soggy.  The streets were lined with discarded appliances and stacks of rotten home remains — though we were reassured that things looked *far* better than a few months ago.

A&W on Ellis Blvd. by justj0000lie
A&W on Ellis Blvd. by justj0000lie

It is in this setting that my final project at Medill began.  Our team of six budding new media journalists, under the guidance of instructors Rich Gordon and Jeremy Gilbert, has teamed up with the Gazette to create something for their community.

Our mission?  To build and strengthen connections among 20 to 35 year olds in Cedar Rapids.

Rich’s take:

The decision to target young adults was sensible, given their heavy use of digital media. Still, I think it also increased the “degree of difficulty”…. Local media companies have had some success creating online products geared to this audience, but they have usually revolved around entertainment….

This week comes the hard part: settling on the core idea for the students’ innovation. What kind of site or service will they try to build? How will this site or service connect young adults in eastern Iowa? What role will news or journalism play?

I’ve got a feeling that the next ten weeks are gonna be frantic and fascinating.  If you’re interested in following along, we’re recording our experience over at the Team Crunchberry blog.


In honor of the berry-riffic scent that wafts from the Quaker Oats plant through downtown Cedar Rapids, we named our team after a certain breakfast cereal that’s close to all our hearts.  If we can continue making champion decisions such as this one, we’re destined for success.