Solutions needed to help fill information gaps in Newark
Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund grant application closes Friday; apply at collaborativejournalism.org/newarkfunding
2020 has been a year like no other.
Having access to fact-based information has meant the difference between life and death this year — more than any other in recent memory — as our society struggles through a pandemic and civil and political unrest.
It’s hit me hard as both a Newark business owner and a freelance journalist. News and information are critical to allow people to live their daily lives, yet local news outlets and journalists keep disappearing.
That concern is part of why I agreed to serve as a consultant for the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University as the Center sought to facilitate more funding for news and information projects in Newark through its Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund.
The Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund is an initiative to support peer learning among journalists and seed collaborative news efforts in a handful of U.S. cities, including Newark. Our goal here was to help identify information gaps in Newark and provide funding for collaborative reporting projects that addressed those gaps.
For the last several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hold one-on-one sessions and brainstorm with Newark’s stakeholders and media makers during frank and sometimes intense Zoom sessions as a consultant for the Peer Fund. The truth isn’t always pretty and there’s no way you can have an honest discussion about information gaps in Newark without discussing how systemic racism and inequity play a part in information gaps.
Over time, institutions and individuals in power have been allowed to ignore the concerns and struggles of the disenfranchised. But when underserved and marginalized communities come together our voices can be heard, and who better to identify the needs of the community than the people who live there? If I know anything about Newark, I know for certain that the people who make up New Jersey’s largest city are as resilient as they are resourceful and they always find a way to work it out.
We launched the Peer Fund in Newark with a convening of about 50 local media makers and community stakeholders in late August to discuss critical information needs. After that, we worked with Outlier Media, a service journalism non-profit, to conduct a city-wide SMS (text message-based) survey that assessed the city’s information needs.
The survey asked participants about the challenges they currently faced, upcoming challenges they foresaw, and the resources they needed. The survey was texted to 46,013 Newark residents. Outlier also used information from the United Way 211 System (New Jersey uses 211 more than any other state) in its information needs analysis.
Outlier found that some of the biggest information gaps were economic challenges relating to utilities, food, housing, and support for virtual education. The most severe information needs in Newark involved COVID-19 and food insecurity.
After the survey, we reconvened a smaller group of media makers in early September twice to discuss the results and begin to brainstorm ways we could work together to fill the information gaps. We’ve made a total of $45,000 in grant funding available for local media makers and community organizers to collaborate on projects that directly address the findings of the Outlier survey. That funding is provided thanks to the generous support of the Victoria Foundation and The Nicholson Foundation. (The Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund itself is supported with funding from Democracy Fund.)
The Newark grants will prioritize support for women, people of color, Newark residents, and people who identify as having a high financial need. All grant applications must involve collaboration among news partners and/or community groups to be eligible.
As I mentioned above, this work is personal to me. I started as a journalist writing for my hometown newspaper The Jersey Journal as a teenager writing a weekly column. Since then I have gone on to write and edit for The Source magazine and covered many events, places, and people that make up the great city of Newark for Brick City Live, WBGO, and Hycide magazine. In addition to covering Newark as a journalist, I grew to love the city as a student at Essex County College and as a founding partner of 3rd Space, a boutique coworking space located in Newark’s East Ward.
Through many community events at 3rd Space, I’ve been able to connect with the needs of the residents and business owners. There are many individuals and organizations in the city that are already doing work to fill in the information gaps, and by working more together, we can do more.
I know that a lot is going on in the world today that may have you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed with information, but I urge anyone who may have a solution to Newark’s information needs to apply. The application process is fairly simple.
If you have any questions or want to talk out an idea, connect with me at email@example.com.
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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.