Neighborhood News Bureau Community Journalism Project lead

VISTA Name: 
Denise Cheng
Program Start: 
Program End: 
Project Description: 

Our newest project, for which a vista would help us build a sustainable structure, has received initial funding via the The Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The purpose is to establish four Neighborhood News Bureaus (NNB) in the city. The purpose is to increase citizen engagement and to encourage greater flow of meaningful information from and to our urban neighborhoods. The NNB project will give Grand Rapids citizens the opportunity to become citizen reporters with a soon-to-be established online and physical network of neighborhood news bureaus in the urban core. The CMC will give citizen reporters the tools, structure and mediums by which to gather, write and report on local news and events. Reporters will be able to produce news for the web, radio or TV through the use of CMC’s resources. NNBs will be physically located in known neighborhood gathering locations, and each site will be outfitted with video and still cameras, computers, audio recorders and templates plus the connectivity required to “file” stories to the web. Additional production equipment and facilities are available for citizen reporter use through the Community Media Center.

The addition of a CTC VISTA member would provide a much needed staff person to help design and establish sustainable structures for the NNB project. While a Knight grant was indeed awarded to this project, all grants in this cycle were reduced by 40% due to the current economic climate. The VISTA member would help use move forward, as planned and would be a main support person for development of the local NNB locations. The work would include neighborhood outreach, collecting and organizing training materials, doing initial set up and organization of NNB’s and creating materials for use in story management and distribution for later use by editors and news gatherers.

Each bureau will be initially “staffed” with a news team comprised of neighborhood residents and college journalism/communication students. As the projects grow, each will be encouraged to develop its own leadership/advisory board. The VISTA member will help ensure high quality and fairness in the program by establishing a pool of professionals to provide training to participants.

Additionally, VISTA will help establish a structure and methods for collecting and maintaining a neighborhood information “bank” for use by the news bureaus.

Primarily, the Vista will be working on the establishment of the physical neighborhood news bureaus. They will be responsible for helping set up the physical and technical structure and coordinating with an initial corps of trainers to provide training for the neighborhood.

The Vista will work with our core NNB steering group and committees to carry out the the project development plan. Work will include relationship building with potential host sites, arranging for assistance for chosen sites; working with the journalists committee to identify training needs and develop a curriculum and recruit presenters; working with the PR committee to prepare our news bureau community launch activities: utilize social media frameworks to increase interest and connect with potential partners; develop user feedback mechanisms; and will produce user guidelines and other reference pieces to aid in community access and use of the site.

Goal 1: To help the CMC fulfill its mission of “Building Community Through Media” through the development of a Neighborhood News Bureaus.
Goal 2: To help the CMC be an ever more active presence in the Grand Rapids area as a vital resource for free speech and information about what’s happening from the citizen’s point of view.

Project Outcome: 

The primary goal was for Denise to help “design and establish sustainable structures for the” Neighborhood News Bureau project…now called the Rapidian. Denise has done an outstanding job at reaching out to the community to gather input, creatively think through the citizen reporting process and create procedures, structures and partnerships that support those processes. She has organized training materials and events; evaluated and revised methods, and researched other “best practices” bringing those lessons to bear on The Rapdiian project. Denise worked effectively in a team that included a drupal developer, a content coordinator (part time), the design manager and the publisher. As the only person dedicated FULLTIME to the launch and evolution of the project, Denise has taken an inspiring leadership role, allowing us to reach farther into the community and engage new participants.

We have expanded our reach and perceptions of relevance in the community (for the good). Mainstream/traditional media now includes us in discussions; promotes our work and even seeks our input and advice as they look to expand their use of community reporters. We a re currently working on the development of a business model to sustain the work, however, our “user engagement numbers” are significant.

The project was sufficiently open ended enough to allow Denise great creativity to design execution plans. But in addition to The Rapidian proper, she has extended a connection to our community radio station and represents the Rapidian weekly on-air. She has also established a drupal working group in our community.

Transmission Project