A Community-Building Dinner in Newark Homes in on Ways to Strengthen Local Media

On Wednesday night Free Press held a community-building dinner at Gallery Aferro in Newark as part of our News Voices: New Jersey campaign, which connects reporters and residents in ways that benefit both groups.

A group of 60 individuals — including statewide allies, Newark-based community activists, and journalists from Newark and around the state — came together to break bread, share ideas, learn more about each other and build trust ... all things we needed to do to begin working toward a common purpose.

That goal? Strengthening local media.

Those who were new to News Voices came with open minds, not sure what to expect. As a Free Press organizer, I had questions too: Should we talk about what we’re doing to better the lives of our members? Should we share ideas and strategies we think are essential to reshaping local media?

These are all valid and important questions. But we also sought to raise an even more crucial question that can lead to pivotal change: If you could reinvent local media to serve residents’ information needs, what would it look like?

Some participants said it was important for journalists to talk about challenges Newark faces, and to offer viable solutions to social problems. Others believe news outlets need to feature community calendars so residents can stay informed about important meetings and events.

What set Wednesday’s gathering apart from previous News Voices events was the relatively unstructured approach we took, which enabled participants to engage in one-on-one conversations with new and old friends from Newark and around the state. We found throughout the evening that one of the foundational principles of organizing, the power of one-on-one interactions, enabled us to build relationships and meet each other on common ground.

The event drew a mix of newsmakers, activists, thinkers and funders. Everyone present recognized that we can’t reach our objectives alone. So we talked and we shared, and we envisioned the potential we have together. More importantly, we thought outside the box.

News Voices: New Jersey Director Mike Rispoli and I thanked those who attended and who have helped make this project successful over the past 18 months. We talked about the role journalism can play in community building, and discussed the work we’re doing in four other communities around the state: Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Morristown and New Brunswick.

Many of our News Voices partners who are working in these communities were there, including the Center for Cooperative Media, Creative New Jersey and the Media Mobilizing Project. Newsroom allies were there too, including NJ Advance Media, NJTV and New Brunswick Today.

Other news outlets and organizations also participated, including Brick City Live, Ironbound Community Corporation, Newark Science and Sustainability, Unified Vailsburg Services Organization and WBGO.

Over the course of the evening we heard some great ideas, learned more about our allies’ work and got some great feedback  — and we plan to incorporate all of this into the News Voices campaign.

Our work in Newark is just starting, and with input from allies we’re planning our work for 2017. We’re partnering with WNYC to host an engagement forum on Jan. 28 exploring what the Trump presidency will mean for people of color, and considering what a racial-equity agenda will look like moving forward.  If you’re interested in attending you may RSVP here.

Stay tuned to hear more about our work in Newark and the four other communities News Voices is active in.

Here are a few photos from our Newark gathering:

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good