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Creating Change through Civic Journalism

Britton Edwards

Social Innovation

In summer 2018, Agnes Scott graduate student Britton Edwards was on what she calls “the edge of an exciting opportunity.”

She was working as managing editor for SaportaReport, an online news source popular with Atlanta’s civic, government and business leaders. But after a long career in marketing, public relations and digital communications, Britton says she was looking for a change.

Along with her current boss, veteran Atlanta journalist Maria Saporta, and Bill Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Britton helped create Atlanta Civic Circle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to civic journalism. The group wanted to build on the interest in civic engagement cultivated by SaportaReport to tackle important issues and effect change.

Atlanta Civic Circle registered as a nonprofit in fall 2018 – but shaping the organization and building a civic journalism site loomed as a monumental task. Nonprofit journalism is still in its infancy, so creating a successful model meant creating something from scratch. Also, at the time, the role she would play in the new endeavor was unclear. She wanted to be prepared for any responsibility she was given.

That seemed to be the perfect time to go back to school.

“I came across the Master of Arts in Social Innovation program at Agnes Scott College and thought, this is something different and exciting,” Britton recalls. “The program aligns with my passion for giving back to the community and doing it in a business professional setting. So, I enrolled, forecasting my own need to increase my knowledge of nonprofits and nonprofit management.”

Through Agnes Scott’s Master of Arts program in Social Innovation, students learn to take business principles and adapt them to solve complex, real-world challenges to create a more socially just world. Students gain the knowledge and skills to become leading social innovators and change-makers within various industries and fields. This degree prepares graduates to launch a social venture or to secure a management position within for-profit, government, and nonprofit sectors.

Britton defines a social innovator as someone who sees a social problem and wants to work with the community and leadership in the community to solve that problem. “A lot of times it comes in the form of something new and addresses a systemic problem within the system or it was something that was never tried before because it wasn’t available to meet the needs of the community,” she says.

When Atlanta Civic Circle launched in January 2021, Britton was at the helm, leading the venture as its first director. In her role, she oversees the creation of the nonprofit’s focus areas, identifies funding opportunities and works with the editorial team to make sure content is actionable and solutions-oriented. She also manages various partnerships with other publications and community organizations.

As she works her way through the master’s program at Agnes Scott, Britton says she is learning valuable skills she can put to use right away.

“This program is helping me with the business side of running a nonprofit, as well as how to create and manage a board of directors in a nonprofit setting and how to raise funds,” she says. “Basically, it’s a 360-degree view of how to create a startup in the social nonprofit space, which is exactly what I am doing.”

Civic journalism involves educating and informing readers on critical issues, helping to identify solutions and bring stakeholders to the table. At its launch, Atlanta Civic Circle had two focus areas, or “civic circles,” democracy and affordable housing.

“We want to bring everyone together to effect change, whether it’s policy awareness or educating the community through journalism,” Britton says. “I think a lot of people don’t know where to start, and sometimes it feels too big to start. If we can give people three ideas on how to make a small difference, then that can grow into something much bigger.”

Despite overseeing a new startup, attending classes at night and having a family, Britton is on track to finish her master’s degree at the end of 2021. She credits a strong support system – including husband Neil – for helping her manage it all. And although she’s learned valuable skills that will help her in her job and beyond, she also appreciates the connections she’s made.

“My favorite part of the program has been getting to know the other students in my cohort,” Britton says. “All of them are incredible people with big goals and energy. I feel like we are very supportive of each other in terms of the ventures we are working on and our goals.”

Her goal for Atlanta Civic Circle is continued growth and community engagement.

“In a year from now, I’d love to see us covering two to four more focus areas with the input of our audience guiding that,” she says. “Within our current focus areas, I would also like to see some signs of impact where we know we’ve made a difference.”

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