Between October 2020 and February 2021, the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative (CJC) partnered with local arts organization BOOM Charlotte to present stories about the impact of COVID-19 on Charlotte communities through an artistic lens. The project, a partnership between reporters and artists, presented these stories in a way that refreshingly reaches and supports the communities it serves.
Local news is imperative to our understanding of the world around us. But, often these stories are not embedded with community voices and don’t reach everyone. To increase relevance of local news media, the CJC wanted to find a way to reach new audiences with vital information about the pandemic.
The CJC includes seven major media companies and other local institutions focusing on issues of major importance to the Charlotte region. It was launched in 2019 by the Solutions Journalism Network.
Each chapter was created by translating a story from one of these news outlets and reporters worked directly with artists via Zoom meetings to transform them into the comic book style. Stories were then shared online and promoted by both artists and reporters within their own communities. Installments were released every two weeks on charlottejournalism.org, a website maintained by the Charlotte Public Library, on Instagram @CLTJournalism and on Webtoons, a mobile comic book app. Each story was produced in English and Spanish. Programming included panel discussions highlighting the collaborative process, a graphic novel workshop where attendees created their own first comic, and a connection to Living Archives CLT – a community driven project to gather and save more stories of this collective pandemic experience.
In March 2021, artists began designing the print edition, a bound anthology printed with a flip design that reads in English from one side and Spanish from the other. Distribution of the nearly 200 page graphic novel included 2,000 free copies through public library branches, circulation copies to all Charlotte middle and high school media centers, university and college libraries, and local arts events. As a recorded history of the pandemic, the books have also been added to area museum collections.
One of the artists in the project said “this movement is a game changer and hopefully will be something others use to model ways they can tell stories.” It has created a lasting impression on collaboration in the Charlotte news ecosystem.