Two Years of Cooperative Media in New Jersey

Posted on by Debbie Galant, Associate Director, Center for Cooperative Media


It started with a simple premise: News organizations, working together, might be able to achieve some useful economies.

Debbie profile pic

It’s the same impulse that led to the creation of the Associated Press during the Mexican-American War in 1846. Only in this case, instead of the costs of foreign war coverage, it was layoffs at the Star-Ledger and the state’s decision to dump its public broadcasting network, NJN, which motivated the idea of a statewide news cooperative. That, and a hunch that news entrepreneurs would begin to fill the gap. So with grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and a significant investment from Montclair State University, we began our work in July 2012.

We knew fostering cooperation among media companies wouldn’t be easy. As the old saying goes, “Would Macy’s tell Gimbels?” Journalists are not, by nature, the most cooperative species. Not only is there fierce competition among the state’s biggest newspapers, there are sometimes rivalries between news organizations of every size. And yet, undeterred, we stuck a bunch of pins in a map in a first attempt to figure out where the state’s news assets were and began a round of calls.

We knew we were onto something when, on one of the first trips, we met Justin Auciello, founder of Jersey Shore Hurricane News, a Facebook crowdsourcing phenomenon that would become a model and inspiration for news entrepreneurs everywhere.

Our first big test came with Hurricane Sandy, which came barrelling toward us even before we had a website built. In an amazing convergence of technology and cooperation, we harnessed the efforts of eight hyperlocal news sites, plus Jersey Shore Hurricane News, to create #NJSandy, a multi-day live-blog hosted by ScribbleLive. The following week, with the added help of WNYC and WHYY and students in Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media, we came back with #NJVote, which tracked local voting problems in the presidential election in the wake of Sandy’s destruction.

Six months later, when we asked partners to come together to work on an editorial project, we found that collaboration could unfold even without the fuel of a natural disaster. Out of that meeting came The Immigration Project, a nine-month effort to report on the lives of immigrants in the state. All content produced by The Immigration Project was made available to news sites throughout the state using our Story Exchange, an innovative platform that allows news organizations to actually embed each other’s stories.

In fact, the Story Exchange has proven to be our most popular innovation. Powered initially by the now-defunct and now supported by iCopyright, the Story Exchange allows news sites to use each other’s content free of charge. As anti-intuitive as it sounds — giving away content you’ve sweated to create — our partners enjoy its benefits. The smaller news sites like it mostly because it allows them to expand their audience. While the larger sites use it mainly to expand their coverage.

In 2013, we began to focus on two new missions. The first was to encourage investigative and data reporting in the news ecosystem. We kicked this off in January 2013 by helping to create Hack Jersey and holding our first journalist-coder hackathon. We also began offering free support for investigative reporting and filing public records requests. In May 2014, we spearheaded an open data initiative in the state. And we are planning a second hackathon this spring.

Our second major mission, begun in 2013, is to grow the news ecosystem. Under a program we call Grow and Strengthen, we have seeded 15 media startups since October 2013. We support these news entrepreneurs with micro-grants, coaching and peer-to-peer sessions in which they help each other.

And though most of our work is focused on New Jersey, we also are part of the bigger community of media folks trying to figure out the future of journalism. In April 2014, for example, we convened more than 250 thought leaders for a national conference on innovation in local media.

Those are some of our major accomplishments, but our work often proceeds in quieter ways. We write a daily newsletter highlighting the best journalism about the state, give trainings on everything from social media to covering elections, and connect people and media organizations with each other almost every day.

And from that first round of calls two years ago, we have grown our partnerships to more than 120 media partners.

This is just a start. We still have a lot of work to do to support and strengthen the NJ news ecosystem. We want to seed more sites, help our existing sites adapt to emerging challenges, and foster depth, collaboration and innovation in storytelling.

Can we count on your help? If you’re running a media company in New Jersey and have not become a partner, we need you onboard. If you believe news is important to a vibrant democracy, help spread word of our mission through social media. And if you or your institution would like to support programs that train and support New Jersey media companies and journalists, we welcome your donations or in-kind support.

Debbie Galant is associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State. She also writes essays on Medium.

At top: A close-up of the NJ media ecosystem. Credit: Debbie Galant


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Dodge Foundation Week in Review

Posted on by Dodge


Scroll through to learn more about what our grantees are up to, what’s on the minds of Dodge Foundation program directors, and more.

Just click on the links for the full stories.

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Collective Impact: Sustainable Jersey Program Encourages Town-Wide Energy Audits

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey
To celebrate the 100th home energy audit through the EnergySmart Homes campaign, Ciel Power surprised Princeton homeowners with an energy efficient lighting upgrade.

 “My kids said that they don’t need to sleep with their bathrobes on anymore” said Matt Wasserman, chairman of the Sustainable Princeton Board.

Ah yes, comfort is a major benefit to having an energy audit and the necessary fixes to make one’s home less drafty. Saving money is another plus, but even more important is the fact that energy audits and subsequent upgrades lead to more sustainable energy use from lower overall fossil fuel consumption.

For many people, getting an energy audit sounds difficult or is not even on the to-do list because they don’t know about it. Many New Jersey homeowners are unaware that significant incentives are available to them to upgrade insulation and replace inefficient heating and cooling equipment.

The New Jersey Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program provides incentives of up to $5,000 in cash-back rebates and up to $10,000 in zero-interest financing to residents who make these improvements on their home. Sustainable Jersey piloted a program that allows New Jersey municipalities to get into the game to encourage residents to make their energy use more sustainable by taking advantage of the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program.

Princeton EnergySmart Homes Campaign


A great example is Sustainable Princeton’s EnergySmart Homes Campaign that encourages residential energy audits that help homeowners discover where and how their home is using energy inefficiently and what can be done.

Princeton had a goal of getting at least 100 local residents to complete home energy audits. So, a town-wide program was organized to procure audit services in bulk, at a greatly reduced rate, and then promoted to residents. To date, 151 residents have completed comprehensive energy audits of their homes under the program, with 32 of those homes eventually performing the suggested upgrades to their residence.

Princeton’s EnergySmart Homes Campaign streamlines the process of choosing a home energy auditor for consumers, making the process more understandable, accessible and safer. Sustainable Princeton, working in cooperation and with the support of local officials, issued a Request for Proposal from certified home energy auditors that specified a comprehensive package of energy audit measures to be performed and requested the best price for the assessment.

After reviewing several proposals, Ciel Power, LLC, a New Jersey-based accredited provider of home energy assessments and energy-efficient retrofits, was awarded the contract to become the officially recognized home energy audit contractor for Princeton.

Residents were offered the chance to have an energy assessment done on their home for just $49 (well below the market rate of $300-$500). Once the audit is completed, homeowners can work with the municipally contracted auditing firm, or price shop among other State approved contractors, to do the recommended upgrades.

Princeton’s involvement in making this program available resulted in significant consumer participation. As a result, residents are saving money on their energy bills and New Jersey’s overall energy consumption will go down.

Presentation to Princeton community to explain the EnergySmart Homes Campaign

Presentation to Princeton community to explain the EnergySmart Homes Campaign

A home energy assessment is an important first step towards an increased awareness of contemporary energy-efficiency measures. These measures, when properly installed, provide numerous benefits to a homeowner including:

  • Economic benefits through reduced seasonal heating and cooling cost
  • Environmental benefits derived from lower overall fossil fuel consumption
  • Lifestyle benefits realized through increased comfort in a home
  • Health benefits realized through proper ventilation and moisture control

The 32 Princeton homeowners who eventually performed upgrades to their homes have collectively received close to $100,000 in cash-back rebates and incentives and on average will reduce their annual energy consumption by more than 25 percent.

“We’re thrilled that we can now calculate average energy savings of 25 percent in the 32 homes that have completed retrofits,” said Matt Wasserman, chairman of the Sustainable Princeton Board. “The collective savings are an added bonus.”

Home Energy Assessment Program Actions

Sustainable Jersey has two certification actions that guide municipalities through the process of creating a Town-Wide Home Energy Assessment Program and/or doing outreach to promote the program.  Approximately seven towns have already successfully completed one of these actions.

And more municipal programs to do these actions are planned. The Maplewood, South Orange, and Millburn green teams have joined together to get the word out about the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program.  The outreach program, launching in late January 2015, will include a promotional campaign and a central website that lists the home energy auditor contractors serving the three towns. The site will include a place for residents to share their experiences and review the work done.  By working together, these three Essex County towns hope to maximize the outreach to residents from their volunteer led efforts.

All and all, these programs are an excellent example of how municipalities can facilitate and encourage more sustainable energy use in their community, and leverage “town wide” participation to improve convenience and lower costs.

Randall Solomon is one of the principals that founded and now co-directs Sustainable Jersey. He is a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. 

Connect with Sustainable Jersey on its Website and  Facebook page.

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Support Watchdog Reporting in New Brunswick

Posted on by Josh Stearns


Local, hard-hitting watchdog journalism is alive and kicking in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The team behind New Brunswick Today is taking on some of the area’s most important stories, covering city corruption, making government more transparent, and giving diverse communities across the city a voice.


Since 2011, this independent, bilingual communitynews organization has been providing fearless, independent coverage on a shoestring budget. This week they launched a crowd-funding campaign, asking the city they love to help them grow, bring on more reporters and expand the impact of their reporting.

At the Dodge Foundation we chose New Brunswick Today as one of six partner newsrooms for our journalism sustainability project because we were excited about their mission and passion for serving the people of New Brunswick. They are digital first but print a monthly newspaper to reach parts of their community who don’t have easy access to the web. They seek out sources in the community and publish in English and Spanish. They are creative, passionate, and generous, testing new ideas and offering lessons and advice to other community news organizations across the state.

Most of all, they are risk takers, willing to tackle tough topics and stand up for the public’s right to know. But they can’t do it alone. That’s why the Dodge Foundation is matching the first $5,000 in community donations to New Brunswick Today.

If you live in New Brunswick please help them chart a new future for local journalism in the city. If you live outside New Brunswick, consider supporting this bold experiment in bilingual, community driven local news. We’ll be sharing everything we learn working with New Brunswick Today over the next two years – make a donation today.

Want a taste of the kind of reporting New Brunswick Today does? Here are just a few of the important stories their investigations helped bring to light:

Learn more and back this project here:


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Creative New Jersey: Catch the Wave of Atlantic City’s Creative Spirit

Posted on by Elizabeth Murphy, Director, Creative New Jersey


Atlantic City and its iconic boardwalk has been one of New Jersey’s – and the East Coast’s – greatest attractions, and has long inspired its residents and visitors. However today, Atlantic City is facing myriad challenges amidst a rapidly changing landscape. While there is no silver bullet, we believe that creativity plays an important role in solving social and economic challenges.

Elizabeth Murphy is Director of Creative New Jersey.
Elizabeth Murphy is Director of Creative New Jersey.

For me and many of our Creative New Jersey team members and participants, we believe that the underlying principle behind all educational, technological, scientific, and cultural advancement is creativity, and that creative thinkers bring about tremendous insights and progress for the human race.

Think: Steve Jobs, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci and Wangari Maathai. By championing creative thinking and establishing the conditions for collaboration among diverse groups of people, our work fosters creativity, advances dialogue, builds leaders, and weaves networks of individuals, who are thinking innovatively and creatively about social and economic solutions to their community challenges.


For the past several months, our Creative New Jersey team has been engaged with a diverse group of passionate, creative and civic-minded individuals from Atlantic City. We have worked alongside these committed leaders in building a Creative Host Team that is leading the way forward in fostering creativity and innovation for Atlantic City’s residents, business owners, and visitors.

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Our Creative Team is now preparing to launch the Creative Atlantic City:  Call to Collaboration — a two-day city-wide meeting with approximately 150 individuals representing a highly diverse group of people from throughout Atlantic City and beyond – people who have a stake in the future prosperity and sustainability of AC.

The central guiding question for this meeting is “How can we collaborate to build community esteem, foster an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, and attract more residents and investment in order to create a thriving Atlantic City?”

Creative Atlantic City flyer central question graphic_v2


1024px-Atlantic-Jersey_Wind_FarmOur Atlantic City Creative Team is a powerhouse with an infectious spirit transcending doubt and limitation.

“This is an exciting time in Atlantic City,” team member Ken Mosca from Atlantic City Electric said. “The opportunity to collaborate with so many who support and believe in the rebirth of the city is inspiring.”

And Michael Cagno from the Noyes Museum agreed.

“This is the right time for the community to come together as one family and to be a part of the transformation efforts of Atlantic City,” he said.

Creative Atlantic City’s Call to Collaboration is scheduled for February 23 – 24, and takes place at the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton College on Fairmount Avenue.

If you would like to receive an invitation to attend the Call to Collaboration or want to recommend individuals whom you think should be invited, please send us an email at You can also visit Creative New Jersey’s website for more information on this Call to Collaboration and how you can join the statewide movement.

Get involved and catch the creative wave that is making its way through Atlantic City!

The Creative Atlantic City Host Team includes:  Michael Cagno, Noyes Museum & The Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton College; Chuck Chiarello, Mayor, Buena Vista Township; Diane DeLuca, Atlantic City Ballet; Allan Doerr, Caesars Entertainment; Michael Epps, The Epps Law Firm P.A.; Joyce Hagen, Atlantic Cape Community College; Sidney Hargro, Community Foundation of South Jersey; Sharon Harrington, Casino Control Commission; Pam James, Atlantic City Housing Authority; Bert Lopez, Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic City; Wendy Liscow, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; Alex Marino, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; Joe Molineaux, Small Business Development Center at Stockton; Ken Mosca, Atlantic City Electric; Phyllis Papa, Atlantic City Ballet; Cydnee Phoenix, Community Think Tank; Diane Ramftl, Caesars Entertainment; Chief Henry White, Atlantic City Police Department; Libbie Wills, 1st Ward Civic Association.


Elizabeth Murphy is the part-time Director of Creative New Jersey.  She also consults with other nonprofit and philanthropic organizations throughout the state.

Creative New Jersey is dedicated to fostering creativity, innovation, and sustainability by empowering cross-sector partnerships in commerce, education, philanthropy, government, and culture in order to ensure dynamic communities and a thriving economy.

Creative New Jersey’s leaders and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.

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