South Jersey Information Equity Project hosts kickoff event and welcomes 2024 reporting fellows
The Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University kicked off the 2024 South Jersey Information Equity Project (SJIEP) reporting fellowship on Saturday, Jan. 13, with a day of introductory workshops at Washington Township High School in Sewell, NJ.
The event brought together a group of eight new reporting fellows, along with Center staff and a team of experienced advisers — including media partners Tennyson Donyéa of Black In Jersey and Clyde Hughes of Front Runner New Jersey, and SJIEP mentors Melanie Burney of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Linda Shockley, former managing director of the Dow Jones News Fund, and Celeste Whittaker of the Courier Post.
We started off with introductions and an icebreaker activity led by SJIEP training coordinator Velvet McNeil to help build a sense of community and camaraderie. Then we jumped into a “Writing for Print and Digital Publications” workshop presented by Rod Hicks, director of ethics and diversity for the Society of Professional Journalists and a longtime newspaper reporter and editor.
During his presentation, Hicks shared tips on how to craft news stories that are clear and readily understood by readers. The fellows also gained some practice with an exercise to encourage concise writing that uses the active voice.
After lunch, we welcomed Cherri Gregg, afternoon host/anchor for WHYY, the Philadelphia-based NPR station, to the podium. During her presentation titled “Uncovering and Telling Compelling Stories in Your Community,” Gregg discussed her career trajectory as a journalist and shared examples of her reporting. She engaged with fellows about the need for community reporters, how to interview and build trust with local sources, and some of the ethical considerations in community journalism.
To finish off the day of valuable workshops, 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 solutions-focused stories.
The fellows asked questions and heard from the media partners and mentors in attendance about their experiences in news gathering and navigating complex stories with fairness and accuracy. The insights should prove helpful to the fellows who’ll be presented with opportunities and challenges in their reporting.
These kinds of fellowships are crucial for improving local media in New Jersey by addressing the lack of representation and equity in newsrooms — a long-standing problem in the industry — and by striving to improve the coverage of South Jersey communities that are underrepresented in local and state media.
We’re excited to support the work of our 2024 fellows over the next six months! Please join us in welcoming them to the SJIEP network.
⭐ Queena Bergen
Queena Bergen is an award-winning international performance artist and Creative Swiss Army Knife. Currently serving as a cultural ambassador to the United States Embassy, Queena’s impactful contributions extend to renowned institutions like the U.S. Department of State, Centers for Disease Control, and CBS, including the Emmy Award-winning Public Service Campaign, “Black History is Our History.” Some of her accolades include the Governor’s Award in Arts Education, the Presidential and Congressional Service Awards, and recognition as an AT&T Black Future Maker.
⭐ Shaniele Brown
Shaniele Brown is a freelance writer with a passion for storytelling. She believes that being able to give the voiceless a voice is very important. She holds a BA in Journalism from Rowan University.
⭐ Brandon Edwards
Brandon Edwards is an author, musician, entrepreneur, and founder of a nonprofit organization that runs programs to serve the community. If you ask him, a sense of community love is what the world is missing, and the media has the power to restore it.
⭐ Erika Heinrich
Erika Heinrich is a published photographer and intersectional feminist. Recently graduating from The College of New Jersey, she worked as a campus photographer, a writer for the Women in Learning & Leadership Newsletter, and volunteered at Trenton Freedom Skatepark. She is currently a freelance photographer with future plans to start a women’s health nonprofit.
⭐ Taja Johnson
Taja Johnson is a dedicated wife, mother, and graduate of Rowan University. She has five years of experience in journalism and excels in interviewing a diverse range of individuals, including business owners, celebrities, and politicians. Taja’s expertise extends to news writing, and she is excited to apply her skills at SJIEP, contributing to impactful storytelling.
⭐ Ahnyah Pinckney
Ahnyah Pinckney is a South Jersey native and a member of SJIEP’s first cohort in 2022. She has a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism from Rowan University. Her journey continued with an internship at WHYY as a media arts education intern, leading to a full-time position as an associate digital producer. Her work at WHYY has strengthened Ahnyah’s commitment to sharing community information. She is eager to rejoin SJIEP to amplify the narratives of Black communities in South Jersey.
⭐ Frank Santos
Frank Santos is a motion graphics designer and multimedia producer born and raised in Camden, NJ. After studying Psychology at Stockton University, Frank decided to pursue freelance graphic design on a full-time basis. Since 2014, his work has focused on the intersection of social media, arts, and music in Philadelphia and New York. He has experience in motion graphics and live-streaming production with clients such as REC Philly’s “Morning Coffee with Will Toms’’ and One Camden, a non-profit student enrollment organization. Frank hopes to build his writing and journalism skills as an SJIEP fellow.
⭐ Emmanuel Young
Emmanuel Young is a recent Graduate of Hampton University, where he studied journalism and history. He is a second-time Fellow of the SJIEP, having participated in the 2022 fellowship. Emmanuel is a photographer, activist, and videographer from Woolwich. He hopes that the SJIEP fellowship will help build upon his writing and photography skills and provide a new opportunity to highlight important issues in his community.
About the South Jersey Information Equity Project: The Center for Cooperative Media partnered with the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists to launch SJIEP in April 2020. Its goal is to address media inequity in South Jersey, specifically by seeking to improve the quality and quantity of news and information produced by and for communities of color. SJIEP expanded in 2024 to cover Salem, Atlantic and Cumberland in addition to the original counties of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester.
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 operational and project funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, NJ Civic Information Consortium, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.