One of the local papers, the Courier-Post, has been present for nearly all of those discussions. And last week, reporters from the outlet collaborated with Free Press’ News Voices: New Jersey project for an intimate conversation to gain valuable insight and feedback from Camden residents about local newsgathering and storytelling.
While we started out by asking what topics in Camden need more coverage, participants wanted to take things in a different direction. After the first 10–15 minutes of the program, it was apparent that we needed to allow community members to speak and focus on building trust between the two parties.
People expressed concern about some of the outlet’s past coverage: A young man shared how an inaccurate story affected him. The reporters there took the time to listen and comment on what people were saying and responded to their concerns.
Another resident discussed the coverage of the demolition of Camden High School and noted that it could have featured more community voices in support of saving the structure. Reporters commented that they covered it as fairly and honestly as they could have.
It’s not to say that this wasn’t expected. Media coverage has harmed communities of color all over the nation. Before we could get into the meat of the agenda, we needed to let people speak their minds about how they felt about local reporting.
After community members felt like their concerns were heard, they provided some important perspectives on possible stories and topics that need to be covered.
One person said that it’s crucial to state the truth and at the same time see the goodness in the people of the city. Others noted that it’s important to provide trustworthy coverage to lessen the chance that someone is harmed by a report that isn’t properly vetted. Another community member called on reporters to provide information on local, state and national candidates for the 2020 election.
Since Camden is composed primarily of young adults, participants called for more coverage of issues that impact them. The desire for greater coverage of youth issues sparked a lot of interest from the reporters, who said they’ve been trying to figure out how to better serve younger readers.
It was obvious that both reporters and community members care about how Camden is portrayed in the media. Both sides expressed their desire to work together to strengthen coverage of both good and bad local developments.
The event was a great example of how reporters need to deeply listen to concerns about coverage before expecting residents to share intimate stories or perspectives. In cities like Camden, where people feel a deep distrust of local media, it’s important for residents feel like reporters are on their side, that they’re being listened to, and that reporters are available to address those questions and concerns.
It was inspiring to see reporters from the Courier-Post show up in the way they did.