To create and pay for a network of citizen journalists to cover neighborhood and municipal news for use by media outlets throughout the Twin Cities. Network stories, videos and radio pieces will be published on the St. Paul Neighborhood Network cable-access television website and on the Twin Cities Daily Planet site.
2007 grantee Sherine Crooms talks about the work involved in getting the project going as well as surprises met along the way. This interview took place on April 5, 2008, at the New Voices 2007 Grantee Meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, D.C.
Show Time: A Public Premiere
Saint Paul Neighborhood Network opened its doors to producers, community members and viewers in May 2008 when it hosted a public premiere of Saint Paul Newsdesk, a screening of pieces produced for the New Voices-funded project. The event was widely promoted on the cable channel, and the celebration was well attended and received.
From stories about the Digital Divide to a profile of a marble collector, a visit to a gay and lesbian archive and lending library to an investigation of deaths by tasers, Saint Paul Newsdesk has produced a diverse array of features on cultural and political issues of interest and importance in the community.
A total of 20 new and experienced producers participated in the program. Project coordinator Sherine Crooms said about two-thirds of those who went through the training completed their segments. Video production clearly has a steep learning curve. “It took [lots] of time to work with people who do not necessarily have journalism training or video production experience,” said Crooms, who is evaluating the program and thinking about creating collaborative production teams. “A different approach may be to pair writers/storytellers with producers, so a single individual isn’t burdened with story generation and production responsibilities.”
SPNNing into Control
The St. Paul Neighborhood Network held a competitive application process and enrolled 14 participants in News Desk, a citizen journalism initiative which aims to bring more voices from diverse communities to the cable channel’s programming. Those selected for the project went through an orientation and training program on video, lighting and editing.
The diverse group of participants includes people who’ve worked at local TV stations, an activist deep into the independent music scene, a local rap artist, a retired theater stage manager, a community activist, a youth media maker, a print reporter, a public radio producer, and more.
At the orientation, citizen journalist Robin Hickman said, “I’ve worked in media for years, but I feel like I’m missing that technology piece and this is my chance to step my game up another notch. This is what it’s about, us telling our own stories.”
Half of the participants were already proficient in video production, while the other half brought some journalism, communication or media skills to the table. SPNN launched a blog to help News Deskers communicate with each other and pair up on productions, for technical assistance. As with all volunteer efforts, life can get in the way. Two trainees have dropped out, so project coordinator Sherine Crooms says SPNN is back in recruiting mode, hoping to enroll a few more local community producers for a total of 19.
In the meantime, they’ve identified a host for their four-part series which includes interesting features on “colorism” among young African American women, a toy store owner’s obsession with marbles, a piece about a local Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, and a profile of the pagan community in St. Paul. Other segments in post-production include coverage of community opposition to an incinerator and a new light rail train route. Features will soon be available for viewing online and the series has been slotted to begin airing on SPNN’s channels in May.
The project is developing a web page to post preview snippets of upcoming programs, and will hold a community screening ceremony for the final productions. Stories will also be posted on Twin Cities Daily Planet, a 2005 New Voices grantee.
Some Static on this Set
Saint Paul Neighborhood Network is seeking to improve coverage of St. Paul neighborhoods by recruiting, training, assigning publishing and producing the work of citizen journalists working in print, radio, online and video. SPNN is working with several collaborators to create a Saint Paul Newsdesk, including the Twin Cities Daily Planet, an online community news site.
SPNN staffer Sherine Crooms, a public TV producer, developed a formal training program for Newsdesk contributors and SPNN has been recruiting St. Paul residents to apply to participate in its series of workshops on journalism, camera work and video editing. “This is an opportunity for community folk to produce short news stories in written and visual form, about issues that are important to them and their communities,” the home page reads. “To encourage citizen journalism and promote democratized television these news shorts may appear on Twin Cities Daily Planet and SPNN websites as well as SPNN broadcasts. Each participant will receive a stipend in exchange for their 3-5 minute video submission.”
“Our goal for the training is to sustain a group of 15 citizen journalists producing video stories of Saint Paul through April 2008, ” says SPNN Executive Director Mike Wassenaar. “Citizen journalists will be recruited from the broad community of Saint Paul residents, and may or may not have technical training ahead of time. We believe this will increase the diversity of voices featured in the project.” First video posts are expected at the end of November.
New Voices is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. New Voices is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.