15 News Outlets, One Topic: Philadelphia’s Reentry Project
By Jared Kofsky
Philadelphia may be known as the City of Brotherly Love, but the East Coast’s second largest metropolis is no stranger to competition when it comes to reporting the news. Media outlets in and around the city may report on similar topics, but it is quite rare to see them reporting together alongside each other as a team. However, as Liza Gross of Solutions Journalism Network discussed during the 2018 Collaborative Journalism Summit at Montclair State University, that is beginning to change.
In 2017, news outlets from across Philadelphia partnered with the academic institutions of Muhlenberg College and Temple University in order to give substantial coverage to reentry into society by Philadelphians after being released from prison. The topic was selected to shine a light on the often hidden struggles faced by people who were previously incarcerated and their families, ranging from PTSD to being banned from voting.
Known as The Reentry Project, the effort involved a wide range of news organizations from all platforms. The project used a solutions journalism approach, which was described by Gross as “rigorous, evidence-based reporting in response to social challenges.”
Not only did the Philadelphia Inquirer and local public media outlet WHYY participate, but Spanish-language publications, specialized news outlets, and digital publications like Next City, El Sol, Billy Penn, and The Philadelphia Public School Notebook were also involved.
This, according to Gross, was no accident. She told attendees at the summit that if you avoid some platforms that reach large audiences, “you are limiting yourself and the potential of your impact.”
The complete impact that The Reentry Project will have on the Philadelphia community and the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania is not yet known. However, what is clear is that the effort by all of the participating partners is making a difference for them and their audience by spreading awareness of an issue that many readers would otherwise have been unaware of. If fact, according to Gross, close to 200 articles were produced by the time of the project’s completion and participating journalists were able to produce content that they might have not been able to create if it were not for the collaborative.
“Solutions journalism and collaboratives are a match made in heaven,” Gross told attendees, explaining that the single most valuable outcome thus far of the effort in Philadelphia is that “every single participant in The Reentry Project signed up to do it all over again.”
The project is evolving into a new campaign called Resolve Philly that will involve 19 news organizations. $200,000 worth of funding has already been secured for the new endeavor, which will begin with a project called Broke in Philly in order to examine poverty in the Delaware Valley.
“The goal at our core,” Gross said, “is to change the mindset of journalism.” It appears that because of The Reentry Project, that’ exactly what’s happening in Philadelphia.
Jared Kofsky covers New Jersey government, economic development, real estate, transportation, and more for Jersey Digs.
About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.