Request for proposals: Research consultant needed for South Jersey Information Equity project

Across the United States, shifting consumer behaviors and collapsing business models have heavily eroded the journalism and news landscape.

New Jersey has been hit particularly hard.

Sandwiched between two major media markets—New York City and Philadelphia—coverage of local government, local civic life, and local business in New Jersey has diminished significantly over the last decade as news organizations have gotten smaller or closed entirely. Our state is fortunate to have a thriving network of hyperlocal news organizations, but with 565 individual municipalities in New Jersey, coverage is still uneven.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: when critical information needs go unmet, communities suffer. Urban centers and communities of color have been identified as those most “at-risk” from a fractured news delivery system, especially in cases where the local news system never really served their needs at all.

As the Center for Cooperative Media has studied New Jersey news ecosystems over the past two years, we have been identifying news deserts and news oases in our state. The Center’s research director, Sarah Stonbely, Ph.D., will release that research soon. One early finding that stands out is how underserved so much of South Jersey is. In particular, we believe communities of color in South Jersey face an acute shortage of information that is vital for healthy communities.

That is why the Center is partnering with the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists to launch the South Jersey Information Equity Project.

The idea for the project was sparked by Manuel Smith, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. During a conversation with Stefanie Murray, director of the Center, he voiced concern about a lack of news for black communities in South Jersey and wondered what the two organizations could do in partnership to address the issue.

The project’s goal is to increase the amount of credible news and information produced by and for communities of color in South Jersey. The official launch is scheduled for April, thanks to initial support from The Nicholson Foundation.

To begin, the Center seeks to hire a researcher for the project to build on the quantitative data Dr. Stonbely has about the news ecosystems in South Jersey with qualitative explorations of critical information need gaps as well as bright spots, and research potential solutions.

We’re seeking requests for proposals from potential researchers. In general, we envision this research building on the Center’s ecosystem mapping work by producing detailed qualitative analyses of the existing media landscape in specific communities by conducting surveys and listening sessions with our partner Free Press to identify critical information need gaps for communities of color in South Jersey.

We hope to begin the initial research in April and complete it by the end of June; our goal is to publish a whitepaper in August, after which time we will actively seek additional funding partners to help the Center and PABJ execute the solutions recommended by the research. We estimate the work will average 15 hours a week over 12 weeks, but currently intend to pay the contract researcher in two lump-sums of $5,000 each, one shortly after the work begins and the other after completion of the project.

To be considered, please submit a proposal to Stefanie Murray by April 17 via email at murrayst@montclair.edu that includes the following items:

      • A brief statement of interest. Tell us why you’d like to do this research.
      • A brief overview of your academic and/or work background.
      • Your resume/CV or a link to your updated LinkedIn page.
      • Your view and definition (no more than 500 words) of critical information needs.

Additionally, if you have any questions about the project, want to be involved in some way, or are interested in supporting it with funding, please contact Stefanie at murrayst@montclair.edu.