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Free Press’ News Voices: New Jersey project is honored to have received two Excellence in Local Journalism awards from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. These awards recognize our work focused on engaging with communities across the state to talk about the future of news and information and lift up stories often left out of local media.

Local innovation

First, we were given the Innovate Local Award, which is traditionally given to a journalist or news organization that uses new and emerging technologies or strategies to deepen the value and impact of their reporting efforts. In 2017, we held 11 community forums (two in Camden, two in Newark, and one each in Asbury Park, Ewing, Glassboro, Hackensack, Montclair, New Brunswick and Tuckerton) that brought together local journalists and residents to discuss ways to strengthen local media, elevate community voices and help reporters respond to concerns about local news coverage.

The events focused on bringing communities — in particular people of color — into conversations about how to make journalism more sustainable, inclusive and impactful.

We also brainstormed ways to use proceeds from the sale of public-television licenses to create the Civic Information Consortium, a proposed collaboration among journalists, organizers, tech innovators and higher-education institutions designed to transform how our communities stay informed, strengthen local media, provide impactful reporting, and amplify the voices of people of color and other marginalized communities.

Ideas discussed at those meetings are being implemented in various ways around the state to help strengthen local news and information. We believe that innovation in local news doesn’t have to come from an app or new platform, or require tons of resources or money, but instead requires changing how newsrooms and communities interact with one another.

That’s one of the reasons we developed this toolkit for newsrooms: to share what we’ve learned since we launched News Voices in 2015.

Community engagement

The Engage Local award, given to NJ Spark at Rutgers University and Free Press, honored our collaborative reporting effort focused on lifting up the voices of the working poor.

The “37 Voices” project grew out of a year of community engagement in New Brunswick, and helped train student journalists on how to work with community partners to tell the kinds of stories mainstream media outlets often overlook. Students worked with Free Press to hone their community-engagement skills, offer an alternative to traditional media representations of people living in poverty, and bridge the divide between New Brunswick residents and students.

New Jersey continues to be a hotbed of innovation in local news, and has some of the most dedicated journalists committed to providing the public with news and information to strengthen communities.

The other winners showcased some of the best New Jersey journalism has to offer, including Montclair Local for its continued community-engagement efforts, Village Green for its relentless reporting and public-records requests on Maplewood police misconduct, Brick City Live for its innovative approach to becoming more sustainable, and the network of hyperlocal sites for its contributions to improving New Jersey’s news ecosystem.

We’re humbled to be recognized for our contribution to local journalism in New Jersey, and look forward to continuing to collaborate with communities and newsrooms around the state.

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