South Jersey Information Equity Project congratulates inaugural reporting fellows and announces plans for second cohort in 2023

We’re looking forward to our next round of reporting fellowships

By Adrienne Bauldock and Cassandra Etienne

As we reflect on the South Jersey Information Equity Project’s inaugural round of reporting fellowships in 2022, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University is excited to announce new funding and plans under way for the second cohort in 2023.

SJIEP was created to help increase the amount of quality local news and information produced by and for communities of color in New Jersey, primarily in Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties.

After months of planning, we set out this past spring to recruit our first round of reporting fellows. The goal of the fellowship was to build community support, recruit local reporters, and implement programming to target information gaps in South Jersey and specifically support Black media makers by connecting them with resources, funding, and platforms.

Now, as we wrap production on a dozen stories on topics ranging from community policing to youth development, health services, and thriving entrepreneurship in a pandemic economy, we’d like to share some highlights from an amazing (and grueling) first iteration of the SJIEP fellowship program.

A group photo of about 20 Black journalists and editors, plus a white guy named Joe, at an event in South Jersey celebrating the work of the first round of SJIEP reporting fellows.
A group photo from an event celebrating the work of our first round of fellows in 2022.

Training early-career journalists and seeking community input

Starting in May 2022, we welcomed five SJIEP fellows to embark on a summer of reporting in their communities in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties.

This cohort of early-career journalists was representative of the small fellowship pool we recruited, as many who applied were students and recent graduates. While one of the original five bowed out due to time constraints, we continued the program with four fellows: Ahnyah Pinkney, Charles Curtis III, Emmanuel Young and Jayden Cohen-Boyce.

As the fellows and their advisors brainstormed potential story ideas during those first couple of weeks, they also prepared to host virtual convenings to hear from local community members about the kinds of news coverage and information they wanted to see in local publications.

Within the first month, the fellows conducted outreach to neighborhood organizations and built out attendee lists for three convenings for the residents of Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties. Center staff provided support as they hosted these events and moderated discussions about South Jersey’s local news ecosystem.

During these meetings, participants — including local employees, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and advocates — provided personal and professional insight about the stories they found newsworthy, shared how they consume news and expressed a desire to see more coverage about the positive aspects of life in South Jersey’s Black communities. The fellows drew on this input to develop story pitches that addressed the information needs of their communities.

A group photo from one of our editorial strategy workshops in South Jersey.

Over the next three months, Center staff, including assistant director Cassandra Etienne and project coordinator Adrienne Bauldock, hosted bi-weekly check-ins and maintained the story production workflow, which included follow-up Zoom calls for screen-sharing edits. SJIEP advisors also helped to support the fellows.

For instance, during an in-person workshop, the fellows received input from their peers and two advisors: noted journalists Celeste Whittaker of the Courier Post, Melanie Burney of The Philadelphia Inquirer and award-winning photographer and multimedia educator Velvet McNeil.

Celebrating successes and confronting challenges

We are excited to co-publish the SJIEP fellows’ stories with our first three media partners:

  • Sherri Darden of SCOOP USA, an African American newspaper distributed in Philadelphia, Delaware, and Chester, Camden and Wilmington counties in New Jersey
  • Clyde Hughes of FrontRunner New Jersey, a website covering Black and Latino communities in South Jersey
  • Tennyson Donyea of the news and culture site Black in New Jersey.

In building out our convening guest lists and through subsequent events and in-person outreach — particularly with South Jersey-based businesses — we’ve also developed a growing network of partners and a listserv for SJIEP fellows and supporters, both of which have helped increase awareness among South Jersey residents and communities.

Since the inception of SJIEP, we’ve aimed to support reporting and information sources by and for communities of color in South Jersey. In doing so, SJIEP also invests in Black journalists and media-makers who seek to gain training, resources, and professional experiences that will help to advance their careers. This investment is the highest point of success for us as we continue to work on this initiative.

Outreach toward the beginning of the program was a bit challenging, as we had to rely on social media in a region with limited news and information sources. But with the help of SJIEP fellows, advisors, and our media partners, we’ve since made some inroads with community members and groups.

Other challenges we hope to address going forward:

  • More intensive journalism and writing training for early career fellows
  • More consistent editorial/publishing schedule
  • Implement career guidance and training for fellows and PABJ partners

Gearing up for a new year and a new cohort of reporting fellows

We hosted a closing ceremony in September at the Cultural Collective Cafe in Woodbury. The event celebrated their accomplishments and featured presentations from SJIEP fellows about their work, including coverage of local artists, prospects for Black-owned businesses, and police efforts to build trust and serve local youth.

The ceremony also included remarks from former NABJ president, Sarah Glover, and P. Kenneth Burns, president of the NJ Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and South Jersey reporter for WHYY. Both journalists shared their journeys in the news industry and encouraged the fellows to continue honing their craft and persevere despite challenges.

Adrienne and Cassandra congratulate the 2022 SJIEP fellows on their work over the last several months.

As we congratulate the fellows on all their hard work, we look ahead to the next cohort starting in January 2023. While the overarching goal of improving the quality and quantity of news and information produced by and for communities of color in South Jersey remains the same, SJIEP will return with an extended 6-month fellowship and plans for a dedicated mentoring track for fellows and new career development workshops in collaboration with PABJ. Look out for more information as we announce the start of the application process later this month.

Thanks to our inaugural fellows, Ahnyah, Charles, Emmanuel, and Jayden, for taking this journey with us. Special thanks to PABJ, our SJEIP advisors, and media partners for their support.

Finally, a note of appreciation to the Independence Public Media Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, for the generous funding and support they provided to this small but growing movement in support of South Jersey’s media ecosystem.

We’re excited to meet our next cohort of reporting fellows in 2023, whose work will help us understand even more about the role local news has played in shaping and strengthening South Jersey communities.

✨ Join us! Help us build a network of journalists, media makers and creatives in South Jersey

Click here to join the network and sign up for updates from the South Jersey Information Equity Project.

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

Adrienne Bauldock is the project coordinator for the South Jersey Information Equity Project. Contact her at bauldocka@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.

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An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair State University

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