Center for Cooperative Media relaunches and expands NJ News Commons, its flagship project

Revamped program includes more inclusive membership tiers, expanded offerings and participation incentives

hen the NJ News Commons launched nearly 10 years ago, it had a very specific focus: Support hyperlocal news organizations in New Jersey.

Now, as the Commons prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2022 (more to come on that!), it’s time to acknowledge how far it has come and reorganize for the future.

Today, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is proud to announce the relaunch of the NJ News Commons. This relaunch is months in the making and is based on the feedback of current members, the Center’s own assessment of the Commons’ strengths and weaknesses, and a reorientation to make sure its work aligns with the Center’s strategic priorities and principles. While we’re announcing it today, we anticipate the relaunch will take most of 2022 to roll out entirely.

Below you’ll find information about our revamped membership structure and more details about our offerings.

New membership structure

First, we’re thrilled to announce a new, more inclusive and participatory membership structure.

The NJ News Commons had limited its membership to news organizations and journalism freelancers in the past. But it’s clear that many across our state are invested in news and information. Access to robust, accurate information can save lives and supports civic health and community resiliency.

To expand membership and better support local news in New Jersey, the Center is recreating the News Commons around an individual membership structure.

By transitioning to a network structure that builds relationships with individuals—including journalists, media creators and concerned citizens — the Center seeks to foster stronger partnerships with those directly involved in producing the news and content that inform NJ communities, as well as with local news readers and enthusiasts, and affiliated academic, community, and philanthropic institutions that round out New Jersey’s news ecosystem.

Membership is still free! But now, anyone with an interest in the future of news and information in our state can become a member through one of two membership pathways:

  • Individual media membership: Freelancers, academics, and employees currently affiliated with a New Jersey-based news organization, information platform, or education institution are eligible to join
  • Individual stakeholder: This category is for any individual who is invested in the goal of growing and strengthening local news for the benefit of New Jersey civic health and community resiliency, and wants to be part of the network.

The Center believes this more inclusive, individual-based membership structure will allow it to build a broader coalition of people and groups to support quality news and information across the Garden State. We will be actively recruiting new members and working to renew current memberships beginning in 2022.

Both membership categories come with automatic access to various resources, which you can read more about on our NJ News Commons membership portal page. At a minimum, all members will receive communications from the Center for Cooperative Media.

To incentivize membership in the Commons for members and encourage participation, by late spring of 2022 this restructuring will include a new member engagement rubric and leaderboard to identify, celebrate, and reward individual members who frequently contribute to or participate in our member network.

Each month, the Center will tally up activities and programs that our members participated in and add it to each member’s participation score. Such activities include the completion of annual member needs surveys, story submissions to the Newsroom Digest or the Daily News Roundup, communicating via our members-only email listserv, and attending trainings or leading information sessions.

Each participation pathway listed above is assigned a numerical value and the total number of contributions are tallied to form the overall participation score for each member.

In addition to bragging rights, members who work their way up the leaderboard will get other rewards, including public shout-outs and recognition in Center newsletters and on our social media accounts, honors at the Center’s annual Excellence in Local News awards banquet, free local news merchandise, and eligibility for thank-you gift cards, among other perks.

Members with higher participation scores will move into higher membership status categories, making them eligible for various promotional and other perks.

One important point for the media members: Completion of the annual membership survey activates membership for new members, and ensures membership renewal for current Commons members. This is a new requirement, and we realize that not everyone has the same membership needs, so don’t worry!

⭐ Filling out the annual survey is all you need to satisfy the base point threshold to be considered a member in good standing.

Revised offerings

Since 2012, the Center has offered a wide range of resources to NJ News Commons members. We’ve served as a coach, a colleague, a peer, a consultant and so much more.

Below you’ll find a recap of the resources the Center intends to continue to offer to NJ News Commons members and a list of new ones, too. Most of these items will be offered solely to media members, as they aren’t relevant to most individual stakeholder members.

What we’re continuing

For our current members, don’t worry! We’re not ending the things you’ve come to depend on from the Center. That includes:

  • Communication: The Center and the NJ News Commons are a hub of what’s happening in the news industry in the Garden State. We run a listserv, a Facebook group, and myriad newsletters, including a daily roundup of top news in New Jersey, a weekly newsletter that helps localize national stories, a biweekly Newsroom Digest that covers what’s happening in media here, and a biweekly national newsletter about collaborative journalism.
  • Coaching and counseling: This has been a hallmark of the Commons from the beginning, and we’re still here for you. Any member of the Commons is welcome to call, email, text or otherwise ping the Center when you have a difficult issue to work through, need advice, or need a connection or a referral. We’ve assisted with ethical questions, made legal referrals to pro bono attorneys, supported news startups, reviewed grant proposals and so much more.
  • Content sharing: Since Superstorm Sandy hit our state, the Center has coordinated content-sharing opportunities and activities for NJ News Commons members. During the pandemic, we ran a program to make NJ Spotlight News content available to all NJ News Commons members. We also work with Nordot to provide its story exchange technology to New Jersey news and information providers. We also try to remind our members when there are other opportunities to pick up content. This will all continue.
  • Translation services: The Center began providing translation services during the pandemic, and we’re looking forward to expanding this work in new ways in 2022.
  • Support for community and ethnic media: Thanks to the hard work of Anthony Advincula, the Center has significantly expanded its support for community and ethnic media across New Jersey over the last several years. This support is critically important and will continue to be a key focus for the Commons.
  • Training and professional development: For years, the Center has offered a wide variety of free skill-building opportunities to Commons members. Everything from SEO to LinkedIn to podcasting to OPRA and more, we’ve got you covered. The Center has also provided scholarships for New Jersey media makers to enroll in programs, including CUNY’s Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators program.
  • Awards and recognition: Every February, the Center awards NJ News Commons members with Excellent in Local News Awards, which come with a monetary prize.
  • Research: The Center’s research on the state of the media landscape in New Jersey is essential and will continue with a series of white papers released in 2022.
  • Stipends to support participation in NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA, NLGJA, and NAJA: The Center will continue to support NJ News Commons members who seek to join professional journalism associations with sponsorship or coverage of membership fees.
  • Access to programs: The Center runs a variety of programs at any given time, including fellowships (such as our current COVID-19 fellowship for ethnic media), collaborative reporting efforts (such as Loved and Lost), revenue projects (such as the AdLab) and more. These are open first to members of the Commons.

What we’re adding

Among some of the new offerings the Center will add to its resources over the coming months:

  • New peer groups: Through the NJ Commons, the Center can identify smaller peer groups to encourage partnership and collaboration between members. In addition to groups initiated by the Center, members can request the development of new peer groups that would meet regularly with facilitation provided by the Center.
  • Shared photography and video: The Center has provided content sharing for many years and will be working in 2022 to expand the portfolio of shared photography and video available to members of the Commons.
  • More interactions with Montclair State students: The Center is grateful to be based within the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, where hundreds of students are studying broadcast, journalism, strategic communications, film-making and more. In 2022, we will be launching programs to better connect our diverse student body with Commons members.
  • Crisis planning and emergency funds: It’s clear that our media ecosystem will continue to face crises. To help our members better prepare, the Center will work with the Commons on crisis planning and fundraising in 2022. In the past, for example, the Center distributed $250 stipends to support equipment purchases for journalists impacted by COVID-19.
  • Exclusive press briefings: The Center experimented with arranging exclusive press briefings for its ethnic and community media fellows in 2021, and intends to continue and expand this work for all members in 2022.
  • NJ Media Mentors: We recently launched the NJ Media Mentors program, which seeks to pair people who formerly worked in media with current local news leaders and startups for support and mentorship.

We can’t wait to start expanding the network of people who are part of the NJ News Commons! You can visit the NJ News Commons portal to learn more and apply to join. We’ve also put a list of FAQs on the Commons website.

Click here to apply for membership.

Still have questions? We’re hosting an open virtual Q+A session on Wednesday, December 15 at 2:00 pm ET. Click here to RSVP.

In the meantime, let me know if we missed anything important by sending an email to etiennec@montclair.edu.

Cassandra Etienne is the assistant director for membership and programming at the Center for Cooperative Media. Contact her at etiennec@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily 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.