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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau

Ethnic and community media produce 40 Census stories, host 6 forums for New Jersey Media Counts initiative

The effort, led by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, sought to raise awareness of the 2020 Census among populations vulnerable to being undercounted

Oni Advincula
Oct 9 · 5 min read

New Jersey is one of most diverse states in the country.

Nearly one in four New Jersey residents is an immigrant and nearly one in six is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent, according to the latest census data. About 20% of the state’s population is Asian, 14% is Black and 19% is Latino.

The most diverse towns in New Jersey include Paterson, Camden, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Atlantic City. Yet, according to the Advocates for Children of New Jersey, those New Jersey towns are also among the hardest to count when it comes to the decennial census.

More than 30 percent of New Jersey’s population lives in areas that are at risk of being undercounted or not being counted at all in the decennial census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state’s immigrants and people of color are most in danger.

That’s why the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University began an effort in summer 2019, NJ Media Counts, to boost the amount of media coverage of the census in hard-to-count New Jersey communities. The project was supported with funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund.

The Center’s census work was spurred by conversations its team had with members of the Census 2020 NJ Coalition in regard to how local media — especially ethnic, community and in-language media — could be motivated to do more coverage of the 2020 Census.

The initiative began with a training and sourcing workshop for journalists about the 2020 Census, which was hosted on the campus of Rutgers University in Newark in August 2019. The workshop, organized by the Center, included several speakers and presentations from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Census 2020 NJ Coalition, along with two local journalists who had experience covering the census.

Soon the Center started its NJ Media Counts fellowship program, which provided support for 12 reporters and editors from New Jersey’s ethnic media to produce in-depth stories about the challenges and opportunities of the 2020 Census in diverse communities — Gujarati, Turkish, African American, Hindi, Hungarian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Filipino, Chinese and Latino. Each fellow received a stipend for their participation.

The NJ Media Counts fellowship was intended to allow each reporter and editor from each community to decide what approach and information their community needed and structure their work accordingly. Especially in immigrant communities, understanding of the U.S. Census varies widely; in some cases, journalists felt their communities needed a basic understanding of what the census was; in other cases, journalists felt their communities needed persuasion on why participating would matter.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and Census Day was pushed back from April 1 to July 30, the Center initiated another round of fellowships., which provided a second round of funding and support to fellows so they could specifically report on census response rates and enumeration initiatives. The Center also arranged to host two virtual press-briefings with census sources on each topic so that the fellows could ask questions and start their initial reporting.

In total, 20 NJ Media Counts fellows produced more than 40 original stories for television, radio, online and print distribution in 10 languages, including English, Spanish, Gujarati, Urdu, Chinese, Turkish, Tagalog, Bangladeshi, Korean and Hungarian. All of the in-language stories were translated in English, and then posted on the Center’s NJ Media Counts website and distributed via several newsletters.

The fellows received about $35,000 total in awards to support their work.

Additionally, five of the fellows organized a four-hour, in-language forum on the census in the communities that each serve . Those forums were hosted for the Gujarati, Turkish, Bangladeshi, Latino and Black communities.

The Center, along with the Census 2020 NJ Coalition, Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the Census Bureau, also conducted five reporting training and seminars for the fellows to provide them the information that they could use to educate and engage their audiences about the census.

“Because of COVID-19, we have been stuck at home. But the CCM census fellowship, especially its online training and briefing, has been so valuable for me and my paper, providing us direct reporting while in quarantine. It has brought experts together all at once,” said NJ Media Counts fellow Mohsin Zaheer, editor and publisher of Pakistani News, an Urdu-language print and online publication.

Throughout the course of the NJ Media Counts project, the Center worked with 15 community groups across the state, including Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Asian American Federation, The Paterson Alliance, Wind of the Spirit, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, NAACP Atlantic City, National Coalition of 100 Black Women South Jersey, Make the Road New Jersey, Turkish Cultural Center New Jersey, Inspiring South Asian American Women, YWCA Northern New Jersey, and Iselin Senior Center.

To read more about the NJ Media Counts initiative, including a full review of its scope, outcomes and challenges, download the Center’s NJ Media Counts report.

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Oni Advincula is the ethnic media program coordinator at the Center for Cooperartive Media. Contact him at oni.advincula@gmail.com or advinculaa@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 support an informed society in New Jersey and beyond. The Center is supported with general operational 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.

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair…

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