Three New Jersey Newsrooms Hand Over the Reins to Their Communities

Unique Collaboration Gives Local Communities Say in What Gets Covered

 

Local news in New Jersey is getting more community-driven and collaborative through a new reporting experiment that puts people’s curiosity first. 

Three New Jersey newsrooms — Brick City Live, New Brunswick Today and NJTV News — are some of the first journalists in the nation piloting Hearken, a new technology that lets the public assign stories and collaborate on reporting with newsrooms. 

"Readers get a direct opportunity to influence and participate in the reporting they rely on. By doing so, the community transforms from being a mere consumer to a co-creator of content,” said Jennifer Brandel, who created Curious City, Hearken's predecessor, at Chicago public radio station WBEZ. "The Hearken model connects audiences with newsrooms in new and direct ways, giving the public an actual role in what news and information is covered, and giving newsrooms new ideas for unique, differentiated stories."

The project is being funded through a philanthropic partnership between the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Knight Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation.

Hearken transforms the journalism process by putting the curiosity of the community at the heart of reporting. It enables people to ask questions and vote on what they want to see the newsroom investigate. Journalists then co-report the stories alongside members of the community and document the process along the way. The end result is original reporting that is more relevant to and co-created with communities.

Each New Jersey newsroom has created its own interactive website using the Hearken tool — Curious Brick City, New Brunswick Listens, and NJTV News Ask Away. Questions already posed by audiences on the sites range from affordable public transit routes to where to find the best zeppoli in the state.

“This is a great way to bring the public further into public television,” said NJTV General Manager John Servidio. “We are dedicated to statewide news coverage, and the NJTV News Ask Away feature will help us further extend our news reach with items of local interest.”

The Hearken pilot project is another sign of the creativity and experimentation happening in local news all around New Jersey. Sparked by the collaborative efforts at Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media, which is helping to coordinate the Hearken project, New Jersey is proving that local news can be hugely creative and deeply committed to serving its communities. 

“With this project, we are creating a foundation for experimenting with new forms of community participation and collaboration in local journalism," said Molly de Aguiar, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Media Program Director. "At the end of the day we think involving the public more deeply in reporting – getting them involved in the process before a single word is written – is critical to fostering more connected communities as well as building a more financially stable future for local news.”

"Hearken's pioneering approach to local news will give vital and greater voice to New Jersey's diverse and valued communities, and the promise of a more engaged citizenry and enduring democracy," said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, president and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation. 

Learn more about Hearken at www.wearehearken.com and follow the Dodge Foundation’s media work at www.localnewslab.org to learn more about innovative journalism projects taking root in New Jersey.

 

About the partner sites:

Brick City Live covers business, arts, entertainment, politics, and lifestyle in Newark, New Jersey’s most populous city. While the city’s effort to remake itself has been a decades-long project, the demographic, political, and economic factors that will reshape the city in the decades ahead are coming to a head right now. Brick City Live seeks to cover the issues and events undergirding the city’s transformation, and the key figures who are driving those changes.

New Brunswick Today aims to be a community hub for the “Hub City.” Run by a staff of three and a team of freelancers and correspondents, the site publishes accountability reporting in Spanish and English and prints a monthly newspaper. New Brunswick Today started as an email newsletter run by Charlie Kratovil and has grown into a powerful local watchdog that has gained national attention for its scoops. 

NJTV brings quality public television programs and resources to communities throughout New Jersey and its tri-state neighbors. The network’s flagship news broadcast,NJTV News with Mary Alice Williams, features stories from across the Garden State utilizing the Agnes Varis NJTV Studio in Newark, its Trenton Statehouse studio and remote cameras at university content bureaus as well as media partners. The NJTV website offers online programs and free digital resources for educators.

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