A dramatic photo of the city of Trenton at sunset, with the Trenton Statehouse in the foreground and the setting sun just about to disappear over the horizon on the right side of the photo.

Assessing the information needs of 3 New Jersey communities to aid the efforts of new hyperlocal startups

A halfway-mark progress report

For the last several months, we’ve undertaken information needs analyses in Blairstown, Paterson, and Trenton, NJ. These three communities are being/will be served by new hyperlocal startups that were recently funded by the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, a first-of-its-kind state-level mechanism for granting public funding to news and information initiatives around the state.

The three outlets are:

  1. Ridge View Echo
  2. Trenton Journal
  3. Paterson Info Hub

Ridge View Echo is a digital-native news outlet covering the New Jersey towns of Blairstown, Frelinghuysen, Hardwick, and Knowlton. Founded in February 2022, as of this writing it has published 18 issues, one every two weeks.

Trenton Journal is a digital-native news outlet covering the city of Trenton, which is the capitol of New Jersey. The Trenton Journal was founded in 2021 by veteran journalist Kenneth Miles.

Paterson Info Hub is currently a detailed, bilingual calendar of events geared toward residents of Paterson, but will eventually provide more general news for the rest of the city. It is the result of a partnership between Paterson Alliance and Paterson Free Public Library.

We worked with the publishers behind these new hyperlocal efforts to conduct focus groups and surveys over the course of several months. As with any audience research these were not without challenges, but we ultimately were able to gather robust data from each community about their information needs, challenges, and gaps.

The analyses were written up in reports that were given to each publisher, and include demographic info about each location as well as profiles of the communities’ passions, worries, and interests, local news consumption habits, and feelings about the outlet in question.

We have had calls with each of the publishers about the analyses contained in these reports and they are currently working on proposed improvements based on our findings. Once they identify concrete, actionable improvements to their product, they will make these changes with the help of $10,000 each from the Google News Initiative.

After the improvements are made, community members will be contacted again and asked for their feedback on the new and improved sites. This feedback will in turn be given back to the publisher, in the hope of creating a virtuous cycle of iteration that will ultimately help each publisher toward sustainability.

Sarah Stonbely is the director of research at the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at stonbelys@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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Sarah Stonbely

Sarah Stonbely

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Sarah Stonbely, PhD is the Research Director of the Center for Cooperative Media, in Montclair, NJ.