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2010 Grantees

Essex County Community Media

Newark, NJ


Jennifer Wager
Essex County College
Newark, NJ
(973) 877-1937

In the first New Voices project at a community college, Essex County College in Newark, NJ, operates a year-round news operation to report on issues in the state’s largest city. Journalism students develop and maintain their website, using mobile and social media tools, and the college will conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Local advertising and grants help support the project. Content is aired on local radio stations and the school’s educational access channel and offered to other local media.



 Holding Workshops, Facing Challenges

This first year has had its challenges and rewards. Most rewarding has been the fact that participants have produced some amazing pieces on issues/topics from perspectives that we often do not see in our local media. Inspiring an appreciation and respect for community media in students and community residents has been something that I didn't expect, but am glad to see happening.

At the same time we've had our challenges. Establishing a sustainable production schedule has been slow going, but I think we are getting there. 

Essex Community Media Project held six workshops during the Spring semester:

-Reporting On-Air Master Class (February 2011) facilitated by Cheryl Washington, former CNN reporter.

-Community Radio (February 2011) facilitated by Dahoud Andre, Haitian Community Radio.

-Voicing On-Air (April 2011) facilitated by Gail Walker, Pacifica Radio and United Nations Radio.

-Editing with FInal Cut Pro (a series of 3 in March/April 2011) facilitated by Andrew Teheran, filmmaker and new media artist.

In terms of stories, participants produced a number of pieces ranging from news reports to short documentaries to in-studio interviews with local figures. All are viewable on the Essex Voices channel on Vimeo as well some of the Essex Voices website. Examples include an in-studio interview with Newark HBO Def Poetry performing artist Helena Lewis, documentaries on the life of an undocumented college student and the fight to save a historic African American slave community site, coverage of Mayor Booker's Newark Peace Education Summit, podcasts on Newark's Hip Hop Education Week and race/media with Andreas Jackson of the NJ Performing Arts Center and an interview with Kaia Shivers of Rutgers University on Nollywood in NJ.

The production schedule this year was about seeing what was feasible. It is possible to distribute pieces on a monthly basis in tune with the production schedule of the ECC student newspaper. We will be taking the newspaper and transforming it into a converged media operation so Essex Voices can offer multimedia content for the student newspaper as well as stand as its own entity. The best way to interact between production is by aggregating feeds via Twitter from other NJ community-based sources. In terms of audience building, 2011-2012 will be the big push now that we have build a body of content. We will target ECC students, Newark community groups and residents.

Colleges are large and extremely complex organizations, and one major challenge has been establishing a workflow for processing equipment requests and personnel payments. This has proven to be arguably one of the most difficult and time-consuming areas of the operation. Just getting people paid takes about three months. Getting equipment takes about six months to a year. Also, the amount of time taken to process this paperwork is considerable. 

In May we met with the Star Ledger, the major local newspaper, to discuss partnering for the 2011/2012 academic year. This could have a tremendous impact on the program. SL is offering to provide workshops on everything from layout to social media, as well as hosting the student newspaper and EV content on their website, which could significantly drive traffic and help us build an audience. They also have a mentoring/internship program for college students.

These services will be funded through the college, however, due to New Jersey "Pay to Play" legislation, the Star Ledger has to go through a bid process, which will take place this summer.

We are also expanding our partnerships with local non-profits. This year we were able to partner with the Shake It Up foundation, which assists parents with epileptic children to connect to resources in the area. Students were also able to cover efforts by local immigration advocate organizations to stop the building of an immigrant detention center in Newark. These pieces will be posted in July. For 2011/2012, we are are discussing ways to partner with the American Friends Service Committee, which focuses on immigrant rights and prison reform.

Our next steps are to secure in-kind contribution of camera equipment from Panasonic, formalize a partnership with the Star Ledger and develop a journalism training program as well as host Essex Voices content on their site, hiring a part-time promotions coordinator to work with a team of student interns to promote EV content on Facebook and Twitter to build an audience, approach in Newark about hosting EV content and partner with at least five Newark/Essex County non-profits to produce stories/short documentaries/in-studio interviews on immigration, prison reform and other issues. We also hope to generate advertising income of $10,000.

Essex Voices Strives to Find its Voice

February 2011

imageEssex Voices, a multimedia news site covering Newark, N.J., from Essex County Community College, is up and running.  The focus now turns to the challenge of developing a strategic plan for content that will reach the community, reports professor and project coordinator Jennifer Wager.

Her approach from the start, incorporated into her mission statement, is to cover “news, culture, and events from the greater Newark metropolitan area and beyond.”  Defining that will take some work. 

It means grappling with questions like, “Should we focus more on positive stories about the greater Newark metropolitan area or hard-hitting stories dealing with serious issues?” she explains. 

In the search for answers, Wager’s partnership with the Urban Issues Institute has helped.  Essex Voices contributors already cover events from the institute and these ties have allowed them “to cover serious issues like the HIV epidemic and its impact in Newark,” Wager said.
To add a softer edge to its news coverage, Essex Voices generates stories on Newark’s cultural presence and history. While the site’s coverage has no specific model, Wager said they are working with others to refine the approach.

“I think this is how we will maintain relevance to the greater Newark community,” Wager said. 

“We feel pleased with the progress the project is making in terms of technical and content production,” she said.  Early content has primarily come from one production class during the fall semester.  More content is coming during the spring semester, which offers four production classes, three video and one audio.

Wager, in partnership with advisory board members and the Newark New Media Innovation Lab, is planning a series of community workshops over the next few months to train future contributors.  They include:

  • Reporting In Front of the Camera workshop with Cheryl Washington, journalist and producer from CNN. Audience: students and community journalists who want to hone their skills in front of the camera to create a more professional presence and delivery. Two four-hour sessions.
  • Multimedia Journalism workshop with Ryan Joseph, renowned photojournalist and digital media instructor and United Nations Radio journalist Gail Walker. Audience: students, community journalists and community organizations who want to combine photojournalism with audio interviews to create embeddable audio slideshows. Workshop participants will do a collaborative project about a community issue in Newark that will be published on the EV site and as an art gallery installation. Two eight-hour sessions.
  • Blogging Newark: Writing for Digital Media workshop, facilitator TBD. Audience: students, community journalists and organizations. Find out what Newark bloggers are writing and how writing for digital media differs from traditional media. Suggested facilitator: Andreas Jackson, WBAI and Newark New Media Innovation Lab; Glocally staff writer. One three-hour session.
  • Ethnic Media is Social Media. This will be a panel discussion with various local ethnic media, including the Brazilian Voice, Lakou Haitian Radio, and Dominican TV, on the impact of social media on ethnic media. Ideally we will partner with New American Media for this. Audience: students, community organizations and journalists. One three-hour session.
  • Community Journalism Workshop with People’s Production House. This will be adapted from PPH’s curriculum, which has proved highly successful with community organizations in New York City, New Orleans and elsewhere. We’re working on getting them a proposal for the workshop, which would be in May/June. Audience: students, community journalists and organizations.

Essex Voices is also moving forward with new collaborators, such as the Africana Institute and the WISE Women’s Center.

—Briona Arradondo


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American University School of CommunicationJohn S. and James L. Knight FoundationJ-LabNew 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.

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