The Rotunda inside the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. (Photo credit: Peter Miller via Flickr)

New Jersey’s track record of local journalism innovation runs deep

The New York Times published an article this week chronicling the changing landscape of media outlets –mostly print newspapers — in New Jersey, paying particular attention to downsizing at large organizations such as Gannett Co. (full disclosure — I used to work for Gannett.)

The writer, David Chen, used to work in Trenton as The Times’ statehouse bureau chief. At the conclusion of the piece, he compared his experience in 2008 with what he sees at the state capital now: the visible press corps is much smaller.

He’s right – the number of journalists in our state has shrunk. But what isn’t reported in Chen’s article about New Jersey media is just as important – and far more encouraging – as what is.

New Jersey is a place where entrepreneurial journalists who want to create a new model for news and information in the 21st century are thriving, and it’s exciting to see.

Among the examples of innovation here are:

  • The NJ News Commons: This is the network of more than 150 news and information providers in New Jersey who share content, collaborate and network; it’s the flagship project of the Center for Cooperative Media.
  • Longtime hyperlocals that are sustainable and profitable and have been inspirations to others started here, such as Red Bank Green, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Baristanet.
  • We’re home to successful newer startups such as Jersey Shore Hurricane News, which began on Facebook and grew to include an audience in the hundreds of thousands, and Brick City Live, which started in 2013 and has since become a staple of community reporting in Newark.
  • Bilingual publisher New Brunswick Today is developing a regional ad network in cooperation with other hyperlocals sites in New Jersey.
  • SNJ Today, based in South Jersey, is a new kind of community television, radio and digital news publisher.
  • We’re home to local advertising innovation from companies such as Broadstreet.
  • The Free Press’ News Voices project launched in New Jersey in 2015 to better connect communities with their local newsrooms by creating spaces where residents can speak directly to journalists and others in the media about their concerns.
  • New Jersey has fostered successful statewide collaborative reporting projects, such as Dirty Little Secrets, and regional projects, such as the recent “American Dream” series by NJ Spotlight, WNYC and Bloomberg Businessweek.
  • National organizations such as the Center for Investigative Reporting have focused efforts in New Jersey.

In the NYT article, Chen also gives credit to NJ Spotlight, NJ Arts, Politico, Baristanet and TAPinto for filling some of the void left by laid-off print journalists. Those organizations are all doing important and innovative work here. So are the state and regional public media organizations, including NJTV, WNYC/NJPR, WBGO and WHYY.

So why New Jersey?

It’s because there is a specific strategy at work here aimed at fostering innovation, sharing learning and nurturing collaboration.

The Center for Cooperative Media was founded at the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University in 2012, to support local journalism innovation at a time when the number of journalists was dwindling in our state.

At the Center, we’re dedicated to being a hub for local journalism innovation. We’ve spent the last four years working on ways to grow the local news ecosystem here as mainstream media contracted. We produce a daily newsletter, we’ve seeded news startups, trained scores of media executives and entrepreneurs on everything from sales to open records law to data journalism, coordinated numerous networking events, and hosted three national conferences about local journalism. And, we’re growing.

Check out this post about five of the initiatives we’re most proud of from 2016 for more examples, including our Sales Academy, Mobile News Lab and Local/National News Partnership project.

We’ve been able to push forward on these projects because of support from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and more recently the Democracy Fund.

Dodge has made funding media through its informed communities project a priority and given many of the organizations listed above a boost. Its Local News Lab initiative has also been especially fruitful — that project supported six New Jersey-area local news organizations over two years as they experimented with new revenue streams, methods of storytelling and ways to grow audience.

Together, our strategy has produced a network of practictioners — both at legacy media organizations including NJ.com and at new startups – who are aware and supportive of one another, eager to share ideas and to collaborate on work with impact.

As Merrill Brown, director of the School of Communication and Media where we are based, said in a post this week, “The remaking of the state’s news ecosystem is moving ahead.”

As articles like Chen’s show, our mission is even more critical today.

Learn more at centerforcooperativemedia.org and consider joining us.

 

Stefanie Murray is director of the Center for Cooperative Media. Contact her at murrayst@montclair.edu.

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