The New Jersey Sustainability Reporting (NJSR) project began in January 2019 at Montclair State University’s Center for Cooperative Media as a collaborative effort among representatives from nine local environmental nonprofits. We shared the goal of supporting new forms of news to address our worsening environmental crisis and together, create a plan for the future NJSR Hub that included:
-Eight journalism fellows from geographically diverse New Jersey newsrooms to receive training to report on sustainability issues and action
-Searchable NJSR Hub website to aggregate and archive the stories
-Weekly or biweekly newsletter highlighting our multimedia stories
-Content distribution partners including higher education institutions to help reach a combined audience exceeding those of the newsrooms.
We hired a project manager and began recruiting newsrooms in May 2019. Two months later, we interviewed and selected our eight reporting fellows. In August, we finalized our letters of understanding with the seven participating newsrooms and held three training and orientation days. The fellows began reporting in September, and in November, we launched the SRHub website with our first 12 stories, and sent out the first newsletter to 2,900 CivicStory subscribers.
Our news editors committed to publishing sustainability stories in return for a stipend of $4,000 which was paid directly to the newsrooms. They were responsible for producing 10-12 print stories or 6-8 video or audio segments. Each newsroom retained their editorial independence and were not obligated to post each other’s content. CivicStory and the NJSR Hub project director communicated regularly with the fellows about story ideas and progress. By the end of the pilot phase in February 2020, we had a total of 59 stories posted to our website. The number had grown to more than 100 by late August.
We started SRHub because we found that news coverage of sustainability issues often fails to match the scale and urgency of our global ecological crises. Citizens need to know how they impact the climate and what they can do to prevent these crises from worsening right at home. Daily news plays a key role in conveying this information and engaging diverse audiences. As the most densely populated state and a birthplace of U.S. industry, we believe New Jersey has important sustainability stories to tell.
Since starting the NJSR Hub project, we have seen a measurable impact on sustainability coverage in our state. Our newsroom editors have cited the fellowship program as the impetus for reporting stories that otherwise would not have been told. There has also been a higher prevalence of front-page sustainability stories across our partner organizations and increased knowledge about the topic on the part of our fellows. We have also partnered successfully with The College of New Jersey, where a journalism and computer science course focused on our work and a student intern developed both a tagging system and interactive map that rolled out in Fall 2020.