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It’s a diverse coastal town with a rich cultural and economic history. Like other cities across America, there are many, many stories to be told in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, there are far more stories than there are storytellers  —  especially in an age of dwindling local-news coverage.

In Atlantic City, we saw an opportunity to test out a new kind of collaborative-journalism effort, one that focused entirely on restorative-narrative storylines and one that put the community squarely in the driver’s seat of what stories got told.

And now we’re thrilled to announce the launch of Stories of Atlantic City.

Stories of Atlantic City is a collaborative restorative-narrative series. It’s an initiative that grew out of Free PressNews Voices work in Atlantic City in 2015 and culminated in a partnership in 2018 between Free Press, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, Images and Voices of Hope (ivoh), a group of engaged community members and six local media outlets.

Our current partnership began last fall when we convened a meeting of journalists and community members to discuss media coverage in Atlantic City and consider what stories would look like here if they were told through a restorative-narrative lens. We brought in Ilsa Flanagan from ivoh to lead a training session on restorative narrative. Restorative narrative is best described as a “strength-based” approach to media. The term refers to journalism or storytelling that highlights the assets of a particular individual or community instead of the deficits and shortcomings.

We kept the conversation going after that meeting, and that’s how Stories of Atlantic City was born.

The basic premise is simple

A group of community members are going to find good stories, and a group of media outlets have agreed to tell those stories.

The community team, led by Alexandra Nunzi of The Leadership Studio and Evan Sanchez of This is AC, is spending nearly two months talking to people in Atlantic City and scouring the town for story ideas that show the city and its people through a restorative-narrative lens. They’re compiling dozens of story tips now and will narrow that list down to a handful of the best ones. Mike Rispoli of Free Press and Ilsa of ivoh are providing guidance for Evan and Alexandra.

The community team recently held an event that brought together over 50 leaders, artists, teachers, students, professionals, local business owners and concerned residents.

People from all around the city came to nominate people and stories they felt exemplified the strength and resiliency of the city, people who were doing good work that the media weren’t seeing. The goal of the event was to move below that grasstops level, the part of the community that are often most in touch with reporters. We wanted to really reach out to folks who we knew were doing impactful work, had stories to share, but were harder to reach.

The team and a group of community members will reconvene in April with our media partners, including The Press of Atlantic City, Route 40, Atlantic City Times, Breaking AC, Stockton University and SNJ Today, to pitch the stories. At the end of that discussion the journalists will each choose a story to tell.

Our media partners, working with Ilsa as well as Joe Amditis and me at the Center, will then report out those stories and co-publish or co-broadcast them all on an agreed-upon day. Following publication, we’ll host a storytellers event in Atlantic City to bring the community together and let the people featured in the pieces talk about their experiences in front of a live audience.

All of this is being made possible thanks to grants made to Stockton University and the Center for Cooperative Media by the NJ Community News and Information Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Center for Cooperative Media, Free Press, Stockton University, and The Leadership Studio are co-managing the project.

We’re hopeful that this can be a model for other cities. We are fully documenting the project now and, when we’re done, we plan to release a behind-the-scenes video on “how we did this.” We’ll also publish both a guide and a report that evaluates what worked and what we’d do differently next time around.

You can follow our progress in real time at storiesofac.com. If you have questions or want to participate in this project, send an email to info@storiesofatlanticcity.com.

Stefanie Murray is the director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. This piece originally appeared in Medium.

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