GOSHEN – Last Thursday, amidst the small fanfare of one aqua-colored banner, a table of chips and homemade salsa and a gathered crowd of 20, a website went live for the first time. Goshen Commons was officially born, and with it, a whole new way to converse.
Goshen Commons is what Duane Stoltzfus, professor of communication, dubs “an experiment in journalism.” Pull up the homepage and you'll find an impressive lineup of community members blogging on a variety of topics and a scrolling column of news and feature stories sharing feel-good stories from the larger community. There are articles about how to make Goshen a better city and 'Goshen Portraits,' which feature snapshots into the lives of local individuals. The logo, which appears in blue and grey speech bubbles, represents the site's tagline and goal: aspiring to be the place where “a city meets for conversation.”
The project is an experiment of the communication department, one that Stoltzfus has been thinking about for years.
“I've talked with students in classes about launching a community site but the challenge seemed too daunting,” he said. “This summer, the timing seemed right.”
Stoltzfus, who serves as executive director, put together a planning team who “did an amazing job in laying the foundation for the site.” The team included GC grad Tim Blaum, a web developer, Emma Brooks, a senior art major who serves as designer, and Kaeli Evans, a senior PR major who works as managing editor.
Stoltzfus approached Evans last spring to see if she would have an interest in helping with a news site. She is currently in charge of a staff of four GC students, who write, edit and take pictures for articles, but she hopes to expand the team significantly as the year progresses.
“If students want to get involved with writing or pictures, there is room for any interest,” said Evans. “I am trying to be more of a delegator and give the other staffers, especially underclassmen, the opportunity to grow their skills.”
Goshen Commons provides an outlet for GC students to get stories published on a real news site. Many communication classes who are writing articles may see their work online later in the semester. Goshen Commons also acts as a co-curricular like The Record or The Globe in that students can get credit for their involvement. The difference is that the news and conversation is not just on-campus reporting.
“We want to build up ties between Goshen College and the community of Goshen,” said Stoltzfus. “If a student is reporting, they will more than likely have to go off-campus."
While the site provides news and features, the staff behind it does not wish to emulate the local journalism already present, but instead serve as a kind of compliment to the Goshen News and the Elkhart Truth.
“Goshen is lucky to have two great newspapers which already cover so much,” said Evans. “To set ourselves apart we focus more on feel-good stories – anything to help you get to know your neighbor better.”
Goshen Commons is also set apart by its main feature: blogging. The site boasts a broad line-up of 18 community bloggers, each with a unique perspective, who will write weekly about everything from nature and food to bicycling and architecture.
Rachel Smucker, a sophomore public relations major, will share her search for style on a budget in her blog 'Nifty and Thrifty.' Jo-Ann Brant, professor of bible and religion, will blog about film. Although there are bloggers connected to the college, there are also individuals from the community, such as a recent pastry chef graduate, a middle school English teacher, a local farmer, an urban planner and a single mother – and that's just the tip of the iceberg. The staff hopes to add more bloggers as Goshen Commons grows.
“There are members of the community from all walks of life,” said Evans. “We would love to have a more diverse range of bloggers to truly represent Goshen.”
After only a week, the site's popularity is beginning to spread. The site has more than 100 likes on its Facebook page and the staff has received positive feedback from the college and the community.
“The hope is to create an online space where people want to gather to exchange ideas and get to know each other,” said Stoltzfus. “We'd like to join efforts already underway in so many places to build relationships in Goshen. It's a wonderful place to live and we want to celebrate the ongoing development of the city.”
Want to get involved? Contact Duane Stoltzfus at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kaeli Evans at email@example.com. Or just check out the coolest page this side of the World Wide Web at goshencommons.org. You know you want to.