For several years The Citizens Campaign has been building a broad network of citizen journalists to fill the void in local news coverage left by retreating legacy media.
Gone are the days of fully staffed city bureaus with in-depth coverage of the entire community. What has emerged in its place is a dynamic, innovative news ecosystem that favors online media and a more collaborative newsgathering approach. This new landscape has opened up a host of opportunities for citizen journalists to tell the stories of the people and the places in their city.
To capitalize on these new opportunities The Citizens Campaign hosted a two-day Boot Camp in Asbury Park to build a community of citizen journalists ready to change the world story by story, city by city.
The City Storytellers Boot Camp focused on providing people with the tools and skills to tell the story of civic innovation in their city. The Citizens Campaign recruited 20 people from Asbury Park, Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Atlantic City, and Perth Amboy who were passionate about their city and made a one-year commitment to write articles and produce videos and photography that showcase positive, empowering stories about innovative citizen-driven solutions in their city and the leadership of its people.
The Boot Camp was a resounding success, primarily because the participants connected on a personal level, sharing their motivations and vision for a shared future of an empowered citizenry.
One by one, each City Storyteller opened up about what motivates them to volunteer their time and energy to strengthening their community. For Jennifer it was about breaking the school to prison pipeline; for Samuel it was connecting the Latino community in Trenton; for Hanalei it was telling the untold stories of the disenfranchised immigrant communities in Jersey City; for Donna Stewart it was educating parents about the school system and their child’s education.
As each City Storyteller went around the room one common theme emerged: the need to replace the stories of urban guns and graft with stories of prosperity and promise of new leadership.
The Citizens Campaign brought in some of New Jersey’s leading journalists from NJ Advance Media (NJ.com), NJ Spotlight, Paterson Press, Planet Princeton, Brick City Live, and many more. These professional journalists and publishers gave our City Storytellers the insider tips and the tools of the trade needed to tell the story of their city. Sessions covered writing for impact, solutions-oriented journalism, multimedia journalism, data visualization, social media, newsgathering and news reporting.
After two days of bonding and learning seven City Storyteller Bureaus were born – teams of two to four citizen journalists who are equipped with tools and knowledge to change the narrative it their city. Now they are setting out to plug into the larger news ecosystem by partnering with local online news media to publish their articles.
Sites like Paterson Press, Brick City Live (Newark), Jersey City Independent, and the about-to-launch Planet Trenton are now developing working relationships with our City Storytellers. Their work will also be featured on The Citizens Campaign’s Playbook, where you can also find city-based solutions and the latest evidence-based research on urban challenges.
At the end of the Boot Camp Trenton City Storyteller Samuel Kanig summed it up well: “Be passionate about the truth. Tell the untold stories, stories that will create change. When nobody gives you a voice, go and take it. Never stop making noise. Let’s get to work…”
Heather is the Senior Director Communications & Public Affairs for The Citizens Campaign. She developed and oversees a “Citizen Journalism” training program to empower people to report and publish local news. To learn more about The Citizens Campaign, please visit their website.