How Stories of Atlantic City Brought Restorative Narrative to Journalists and Community Members in New Jersey

by Madeleine Feldman

Summary

Stories of Atlantic City was created as a way to shed light on the marginalized communities and individuals within Atlantic City while building a collaborative space for journalists and residents to work together. Stories of Atlantic City focused on creating a restorative narrative, a journalistic method intended to build trust and communication within communities who have experienced marginalization, trauma and misrepresentation. This methodology offers a chance to restore trust in media and collaboration. Members of the New Jersey news system and advocacy efforts began to recognize a need for diverse voices and stories within the greater Atlantic City area as well as a need to improve relationships with residents. The partners in this collaboration included Stockton University, Free Press, News Voices, and Center for Cooperative Media who worked together to manage each aspect of the project. This gives residents the opportunity to tell their stories through the work of journalists dedicated to the restoration methodology. 

Snapshot

Project Goals: Stories of Atlantic City was created to foster a restorative narrative between journalists and citizens. This project hoped to create trust within the community while “elevating unheard community perspectives” The project began with three hypotheses. 

Hypothesis as stated in the Stories of AC Report: 

  1. That the project would result in a more positive public perception of Atlantic City. 
  2. That having been introduced to restorative narrative, newsrooms might begin to incorporate it into their workflow. 
  3. That the project could help build better relationships between local news media and the local community.

Tools and Technology: Stories of AC used their media partnerships to create a team of contributors including five student reporters. Additionally, two community organizers were hired to support the ongoing success of the project: Alexandra Nunzi from the community organization The Leadership Studio and Evan Sanchez, a community entrepreneur. Their dedicated efforts were essential to the project’s success. “The volunteerism of Evan Sanchez, and those who did help, you know, they went above and beyond,” said Toby Rosenthal, a media partner from Stockton University.

Impact: Stories of AC created a space within which restorative narrative could help the community thrive through collaboration and education. Community members and journalists both reported feeling as if their understanding of each other had improved while trust and open conversation was created. The project brought together 25 individuals in their initial restorative narrative workshop, 50 participants for the community mixer that ended the outreach phase, and around 100 people attended the final event. Additionally, the success of this project allowed Stories of AC to receive a second grant for the next round of the project which will allow them to expand both in reach and time. Stockton University has also created a restorative narrative course to continue the educational success of the project. 

Organization Background: Stories of Atlantic City is supported by the ongoing efforts of several dedicated media partners and community members throughout the Atlantic City and New Jersey area. These included Stockton University and the Communication Studies Program, students, Free Press, the Center for Cooperative Media, as well the essential contributions of community organizers like Evan Sanchez. The individuals spearheading these efforts collaborated in order to effectively share responsibilities and resources.   

Full List of Partners: 

Project Resources: Stories of AC received an initial grant of $18,500 from the NJ Community News and Information Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. This funding was used to support staff, events and organizations logistics. Through a multi-organization partnership, Stories of Atlantic City utilized the manpower and resources from each contributor. 

Here’s What Worked

1. Utilizing partnership and collaboration

Multi-organization partnership and community passion motivated this project through collaboration. According to Rosenthal the community support and partnership has a major impact on the success of the project. “I think outside of the formal structures of organization, it really took, like the community interest to move it ahead. And I think that that was sort of the force that influenced the organization to keep it moving.”

2. Active listening within the community

The nature of this project was based on collaboration and restoration, creating a space for community members to tell their stories and journalists to learn. By focusing on asking what participants feel is essential in order to tell their stories, Stories of AC was able to create a restorative environment and build trust between media and citizens. 

3. Continuing to learn throughout the process

As members of the journalistic and academic community, the media partners within stories of AC are motivated to learn from each phase of the project. In addition, collaborating they have created a new format for the next round of the project in order to understand how to improve. 

Here’s What Could Have Worked Better

1.  Putting community connection first

Though Stories of AC prioritized community input, Toby Rosenthal explained that an additional focus on initial input would have been very beneficial. Understanding what specific expectations members of the AC community had for each story would help journalists and media partners build stories that felt authentic to participants’ needs and expectations. “How could we have more of a conversation in the beginning with the community? We have these ideas, but we know you have your ideas too. Can we come together more and better? On the front side so that it’s more balanced.” Toby explained that deadlines, media partners’ needs, and community expectations meant that some of the story selection process was left to the journalists. 

2. Grow staff and community partners

The limited number of staff members and community partners placed a great deal of pressure on those within the Stories of AC team.  Hiring administrative staff and a larger number of community partners can help create an efficient team as well as diversify the voices within each story.  According to Rosenthal, this led them to make the decision to hire a part-time dedicated staff member for the next round of the project. 

3. Reducing the pressure with balanced deadlines 

This project worked within a tight and concentrated deadline in order to maintain momentum and accommodate student schedules. Though all projects were successfully completed, Toby Rosenthal acknowledged that creating a larger window for planning and further community connection would be helpful in the future. “We had the restriction of working within the spring semester, which is really January and it wraps in the beginning of May, at the end of Mother’s Day weekend, which is that first or second week and like that, then your students are gone.” Rosenthal said. “ I think being able to really plan and pre-produce things in a different way would have, you know, get better. “

What Else You Should Know

  • Ongoing Efforts: Stories of AC has received additional grant funding for $50,000 and Stockton University is in the beginning stages of continuing the project. They hope to create a story bank within the near future which media partners can use to create stories within the restorative narrative framework. This can also be used for artists and community members as a creative resource.
  • Restorative Narrative Education: After the success of Stories of Atlantic City, Stockton University’s Communication Studies Department has introduced a restorative narrative class. In addition to promoting student contributions to the next Stories of AC project, students will have the opportunity to grow their understanding of engaged journalism as a whole. 
  • Relationships are Key: Students were offered the opportunity to collaborate with community members in a mutually supportive relationship and learned how to build restorative narratives into their journalism skill base. Additionally,  due to the collaborative nature of this project, many supportive relationships were fostered between journalists, students, and community members. 

Learn More

Go to the Stories of Atlantic City website to learn about each individual media partner and check out the full stories of Atlantic City report and contact Toby Rosenthal to learn more about the project. 

Additional information/podcast: https://acstories.podbean.com/e/episode-2-1585603616/

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