American Communities Project receives generous funding towards new study

On November 15, the American Communities Project (ACP) received $2.4 million in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation towards their new project, “Analyzing American economic and demographic fragmentation at the community level.” Director of the project and the ACP, Dante Chinni and senior editor/writer and project manager, Ari Pinkus seek to study the nation’s cultural and political divides in this study.

The American Communities Project, based in the J-School of ComArtSci, is an organization devoted to finding better ways of understanding the different community types that make up America in hopes of using that information to measure what does and does not work within those communities. Despite the connectedness the internet and technology bring to the nation, communities across the country experience the world very differently from one another.

Chinni and Pinkus plan to utilize data and a journalistic approach when carrying out this project. Using the ACP’s county typology that breaks the nation into 15 distinct community types, they intend to create and implement survey research in order to continually update the ACP’s website which will make collected data more accessible to all. Their overall goal is to understand the forces that are driving division across the nation with hopes of finding ways to re-connect the country’s gaps in an unprecedented time of cultural, technological, socioeconomical and political change.

To conduct this study, Chinni and Pinkus will begin by gathering and analyzing data from various sources including census data, political results, health data and consumer data. This information will help identify certain trends and characteristics of communities throughout the country and will be collected and recorded on the ACP’s website. Following this, they will work with a survey research partner to conduct three large surveys over the span of three years to explore the different ways these communities perceive the nation and observe its challenges. They hope these surveys will show what efforts can be made to “stitch” the country back together again.

“That may sound a bit dire, the need to ‘stitch things back together,’ but what we have found out talking to voters out there is there are very different visions of what the country is, what the country should be and even different visions of reality,” said Chinni.

After collecting all the research and data, and with the assistance of Judy Walgren, J-School associate director and professor of practice in the college, the team will use these surveys as a guide to go out into these communities in real time to see what those differences/challenges look like in reality while figuring out how those issues can be addressed.

“Professor Judy Walgren will be part of this effort,” he said. “[Judy will] bring special sets of skills with photography, video and audio that will enhance our abilities to create compelling journalistic content.”

After going through those three main steps of the project, Chinni and Pinkus will use this collection of data and information from on-the-ground reporting to write about their findings and create short documentary work further analyzing their research.

Chinni will begin the initial research of this grand project in December.

“In the next few weeks, I will be setting out with a video team to begin to background research in four communities around the country, asking them their thoughts about and definitions for a list of 20 key terms, including Democracy, Freedom, News Media and American Dream. We will produce a series of short videos that explore the idea that we will be digging into with this project.”

The project is set to wrap up in October of 2025.

By Casey Halas