New SJIEP reporting fellowship cohort launches in South Jersey
Four fellows will produce solutions-based, restorative narratives with and for communities of color in Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington counties
The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University kicked off the 2023 South Jersey Information Equity Project (SJIEP) reporting fellowship in Willingboro, NJ on January 14th.
The event brought together a group of dedicated fellows, Center staff, and a team of experienced mentors and advisers, including Tennyson Donyea, Velvet McNeil, and Celeste Whittaker.
The day began with a bit of background about the SJIEP program, followed by introductions from all the attendees and organizers. The fellows, Center staff, and advisers then participated in an ice breaker activity to build a sense of community and camaraderie.
After a quick ice-breaker, we dove into an overview of the agenda and discussed some of the expectations of the fellows over the course of the program — including working alongside residents and community members throughout the reporting process, and leaning on SJIEP mentors and advisers when necessary.
After a break, we had an engaging discussion about the different perceptions and portrayals of South Jersey in local and statewide media, and talked about what better, more accurate and representative coverage would look like.
We used poster boards and post-it notes to lay out some of the current problems in media, as well as the gaps, possible solutions, and suggestions for improvement. We also discussed a few recent local news stories about Willingboro and the surrounding area, and talked more generally about the ways in which communities of color are treated and covered by traditional and legacy media.
After lunch, SJIEP training coordinator Velvet McNeil and adviser Celeste Whittaker led a workshop on media literacy and why it’s important to go outside of your comfort zone in your reporting. We also defined the types of community beats our fellows will be focusing on and asked them to add post-its to the board with reporting topics and beats they’d like to cover.
Finally, we had a discussion about restorative narrative journalism, and how this approach can be used to shift the focus of reporting from negative and deficit-based stories to positive and solution-focused stories. We discussed some of the key elements and tenets of restorative narratives and discussed examples of how it’s typically applied in journalism.
These kinds of fellowship is crucial for improving local media in New Jersey for several reasons. First, the lack of representation and equity in newsrooms has been a long-standing problem in the industry. This is particularly true in local news, where communities of color are often underrepresented and their stories are not being told.
The SJIEP fellowship addresses this issue by connecting early-career journalists from communities of color with resources, funding, and platforms to produce solutions-based, restorative narratives with and for communities of color in Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington counties.
Restorative narrative journalism is an increasingly popular approach that shifts the focus from negative and deficit-based stories to positive and solution-focused stories. This approach has been shown to foster greater trust and engagement with audiences, and to empower and uplift communities.
The program also provide opportunities for fellows to receive hands-on training and mentorship from experienced journalists, allowing them to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to produce impactful and meaningful stories.
Overall, the event was a success and we’re thrilled to have brought together a group of individuals who are passionate about supporting and uplifting the communities of South Jersey through responsible and engaged journalism. We’re excited to support our 2023 cohort of four reporting fellows and are eager to see the results of their work with community members.
We’re looking forward to the next steps of the fellowship and the impact it will have on the local communities.
👋 Want to learn more and receive updates about the South Jersey Information Equity Project? Click here to visit the SJIEP homepage.
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, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 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.