“The Newspaper Reader” in Hamilton Township, NJ. (Credit: Seward Johnson, The Retrospective and Wally Gobetz, Creative Commons via Flickr.)

Looking back on five years of cooperative media in New Jersey

The Center for Cooperative Media remains committed to supporting local media partners in the Garden State and beyond

Earlier this year, the Center for Cooperative Media and its flagship project the NJ News Commons turned five years old — but we’ve been so busy that we almost forgot to mention it!

Happy belated birthday to us.

We thought this would be a good opportunity for us to share what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, and where we see our work with the New Jersey news ecosystem going.

But first, a little background…

The Center is a grant-funded program housed at the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University.

Our mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism and, in doing so, serve the residents of New Jersey.

We support our mission through the work of the NJ News Commons, through our research into issues surrounding local journalism and the communities it serves, and through our work in advancing collaborative journalism.

The Center receives funding and support from Montclair State University, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. We’ve also received funding for events and project-specific projects from the Rita Allen Foundation, Google and the American Press Institute.

What we’ve done

When we started going back through all of our reports, articles and documentation about the Center’s work over the past five years, it was overwhelming — in a positive way.

To help show the depth of what we’ve been able to work on in a concise format, we built the timeline below, which shows major CCM events and initiatives over the last five years. Use the arrow on the right to navigate or click on events in the timeline dates at bottom. Click here to see the timeline in a separate browser window. (Click here to see a more complete text list of the Center’s events, projects, and other activities.)

A lot of the work we do isn’t easily explained in a data set. It’s the late-night call we take from an independent journalist who is struggling with a source. It’s the coaching we do to show someone how to record a podcast. It’s the connections we make when someone needs ad sales help and we quickly put them in touch with just the right person. It’s the goodwill we spread by acknowledging the fantastic journalism being done in small towns across our state by journalists who are barely scraping by.

But there are a lot of things we can quickly summarize. Among the Center’s most important accomplishments:

  • Building a (growing) network of more than 200 media partners in New Jersey
  • Coordinating multiple statewide collaborative reporting projects
  • Coaching and helping our partners tackle countless business and editorial challenges
  • Becoming a hub of communication and a conduit for information-sharing between partners
  • Organizing four national media conferences — and two statewide hackathons — around major issues in local news, such as innovation, engagement, sustainability, and collaboration

What we’ve learned

One of the assumptions underlying the launch of the Center for Cooperative Media was the acknowledgement that the media landscape was — and still is — changing rapidly and we were going to be testing, learning and iterating constantly.

We’ve learned some important lessons about local news and journalism in New Jersey over the past five years. Among them:

  • Even in a densely-populated, affluent East Coast state such as New Jersey, there are news deserts. Lots of them. It sometimes surprises outsiders when we say that, but once we articulate what we mean, they get it: We have 565 municipalities in this state and many of them have no independent media coverage. That’s a lot of local decisions being made and money being spent with no one watching — unfortunately, creating an environment ripe for corruption.
  • New Jersey is full of entrepreneurial journalists and publishers, and there’s a healthy appetite for innovation across the state.
  • We’ve learned that building a healthy news ecosystem takes time, investment and trust. It requires being purposeful about the impact you’re seeking to make, intentional about building and maintaining relationships, and diligent when it comes to tracking what’s working and what needs to change.
  • You have to have a strong core network of partners to maintain a healthy news ecosystem. Their advocacy is critical. That network has to involve much more than just journalists; ideally it involves leaders from local industry, foundations, advocacy groups, and community organizations.
  • There is a willingness among entrepreneurs to help each other, even if it requires a little coaching to come out.
  • There is a need for the kind of infrastructure and support we provide, even if it’s just the knowledge that there are others in the state who are asking similar problems and facing similar challenges.
  • This is an important role for journalism schools across the country to consider adopting: taking an active role in the health of the news ecosystems in their area beyond seeing them solely as internship opportunities.

So, what’s next?

Over the next few years, we want to continue to pursue solutions to journalism’s most pressing questions, including finding new revenue streams and business models, improving technological accessibility, lowering or removing barriers to entry, focusing on news and information that is inclusive and built by the community it serves, and increasing the diversity of voices represented in the media. In the short term, we will also continue to grow our network and work with our partners to solve the day-to-day challenges they face, while also focusing on the future.

Among our key challenges:

  • There is still a need for business innovation in this industry, and we will continue to support local publishers in their search for solutions.
  • We still need to get a handle on some of the most underserved populations in the state, as well as underserved geographies, to target for seeding.
  • We need to grow the core network of local news ecosystem supporters. This means not only joining with other community partners, but more individual community members.
  • We will continue to improve and refine the infrastructure and programs we offer to the NJ news ecosystem.
  • We will stay focused on the impact we want to make; it can be hard to define success in realistic and achievable terms, as catalyzing more quality journalism is not a well-defined realistic success metric on its own.

We look forward to working even more closely with communities and news providers in New Jersey and beyond over the next five years.

In the meantime, we wish you a happy start to 2018!

Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media. You can reach him at amditisj@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. 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.



Joe Amditis
Center for Cooperative Media

Associate director of products + events, Center for Cooperative Media; host + producer, WTF Just Happened Today podcast.