Since its launch more than three years ago, our project has grown and become a model for increasing the volume of “social good” news in any geography. 22 reporters from 20 newsrooms are alumni of our fellowship, and they have produced 181 stories to date on environmental sustainability.
In January 2019, CivicStory and the Center for Cooperative Media convened a meeting of sustainability experts and nonprofit journalists to envision highlighting sustainability action around the state, and engaging news editors and journalists in reporting it. The goal was to ensure news coverage of sustainability matches the scale of our global ecological crises, recognizing the challenge of gathering and disseminating local news in New Jersey’s highly distributed local governance structure (565 municipalities).
The outcome of that gathering was the NJ Sustainability Reporting project. It provides 1) revenue incentives for news organizations to cover the complex topic of sustainability; 2) career development for reporting fellows; and 3) essential information that equips people for contributing to, rather than compromising, Earth’s environment.
The first group of fellows convened in 2019, the second in 2019-2020, and the third in 2021-2022. Our fourth and largest group of reporters just completed their four-month fellowship in July 2022, and we anticipate a fifth group beginning in January 2023. Improvements over time have included the addition of college student reporter fellows, a “story map” on our website designed by computer science students at The College of New Jersey, and a change to the payment mechanism as recommended by a team of Missouri University students who evaluated the project.
CivicStory manages the fellowship with the following activities:
● We recruit and select student and professional reporter fellows from diverse news organizations with a New Jersey audience.
● We schedule expert speakers on sustainability or journalism topics, plus sessions for fellows to engage and learn from each other.
● We pay per-story reporting stipends.
● We provide editorial support to student fellows.
● We republish/re-air the stories that fellows’ newsrooms produce, and promote the stories to CivicStory’s audience in New Jersey and beyond.
By November 2022, CivicStory will publish a comprehensive handbook to give any organization the guidance needed to organize similar fellowships focused on increasing the volume of news, on any subject area and in any locale.