Well, How Did We Get Here? 2018 in Review

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The top stories of the past year and a thank-you to everyone who made it possible to continue our work.

By Matt Skoufalos | December 31, 2018

If you’ve come to read NJ Pen in the last 12 months, thank you and welcome. Some of you may be new to us, but our data tells us that 353,317 of you checked in with us this year.

For an independent local news website covering nine towns in South Jersey, that’s a healthy number. It reflects a figure comparable to the population of the surrounding region. It shows us that we’re having an impact in the communities we serve.

Those 350,000 of you who read NJ Pen in 2018 looked at pages on our site nearly 1.4 million times. Ten percent of that traffic came from people who were simply doing a web search for something we’d written about.

In 2018, 60 percent of our readers were new to the site, which shows us that the audience for our work continues to grow almost five full years into the job.

Most of that work is being subsidized by a fraction of the people who’ve read or otherwise benefited from it. Although there is no paywall restricting access to the unique flavor of journalism provided here, it does demand full-time labor to produce.

In the past, much of that would have been subsidized by advertising dollars. We are fortunate to provide those services to a handful of high-quality, supportive, local small businesses—and thank you to all our loyal advertisers for supporting this work! But in 2018, and going into 2019, it won’t be enough to fund the entirety of our news operation.

NJ Pen was begun in part as a public service to the communities it covers. It is among our core values to provide useful information to the general public in the interest of civic engagement and awareness. We think better informed communities are stronger communities. We wanted to keep our information free, the better to keep it freely read.

But to date, only 140 of our 353,000 readers have opted to support our work in this model. That’s 0.04 percent. And we’d love to be able to continue in this fashion, but without greater contributions, it’s simply impossible.

We ask for $8.99 a month from our readers in an ongoing contribution (three months for $25). That’s about the price of a lunch. Enough lunches pay for rent, gas, phone bills, and the cost of bringing you reliable information about the place where you live.

If you’ve been a reader in the past year, please throw a few bills in the guitar cast. It means more than you can imagine. Thanks.

Top Stories

Sometimes the biggest news of the day doesn’t travel the farthest or take the most amount of time to produce; sometimes the most exhaustively researched stories don’t make the deepest impact. But in 2018, the biggest stories that NJ Pen broke traveled far beyond our Camden County coverage area. Likewise, many of our readers may be unfamiliar with some of the new features we’ve introduced in-house. Here’s a handful of hits from past year.

1774 Philadelphia Newspaper Turns up at South Jersey Goodwill

To Out a Predator: How a Virtual Community Tried to Prevent a Child Abuse Crime

Cherry Hill East Students Offer Accounts of Classes Before Teacher’s Removal

Local Controls: Part I – Early History

Friends, Family, Fiancee Mourn Collingswood Woman on Anniversary of Fatal Crash

NJ Pen Introduces Direct Dispatch Story and Tip Texting Service

Now Accepting Nominations for the 2018 NJ Pen Townie Awards

Police and Fire

The work done by local emergency services personnel has often comprised the bulk of our breaking news reports, from significant arrests and prosecutions to the efforts of first responders in moments of tragedy. In 2018, that was true again, as police and fire news led our local coverage efforts with 68 stories. Here are the highlights.

Routine Policework in Haddon Heights Leads to Recovery of Missing DC Girls

Collingswood Mom Says Daughter was Lured through School-Issued Computer

Police Records Note Discrepancies in Accounts of Haddon Twp. Commissioner’s Car Crash

CamCo Health Systems Team up to Buy Narcan in Bulk

Community Policing Project Tackles Opioid Crisis at Camden County Summit

UPDATE: Suspect Arrested, Two More at Large in Camden Cop Shooting

Changeover at Merchantville PD: Bauer Retires, Grassia Promoted to Chief

Business

Small business has always been a coverage focus at NJ Pen because its impact reverberates far beyond brick-and-mortar walls and into community life.

In 2018, we produced 57 such stories, introducing readers to 27 new local businesses, and notifying them of the closings of 10 others. That alone is often a reason many readers tell us they follow our work, but in addition, we’ve tracked trends in economies beyond the borders of our downtown shopping districts.

The High Cost of Renting in Camden County

Delivery Services, ‘Google Tax’ Eat Up Slim Margins at Local Restaurants

Trader Joe’s, Shake Shack, HomeGoods, TJ Maxx to Join Shoppes at Garden State Plaza in Cherry Hill

Lourdes to Sell to Virtua

New NJ Microbrewery Regs Question Competitive Balance Among Bars, Brewers, Retailers

On the Heels of Holtec Spat, ‘Camden Working’ Summit Emphasizes Push to Grow City’s Labor Base

Nesting House Collingswood Children’s Boutique Closes up Shop

Government

From elections coverage to policy action, we produced 42 stories on local government in 2018. Keeping an eye on the mechanisms of power and civics in the information age is an ongoing process, and not all the work happens within the confines of public meetings. NJ Pen has endeavored to bring you closer to the people behind the decisions from both sides of the voting booth. Here’s some highlights from the past calendar year.

Collingswood Resident to Challenge Zoning Regs in AirBnB Case

$20M Newton Creek Cleanup Could Resolve Longstanding Community Environmental Issues

Haddonfield Seniors Want Bancroft for Downsizing, Condemn Potential ‘Flood’ of Schoolchildren

$25M Newton Creek Dredge to Begin in October

‘Rails With Trails’ Pop-Up Event Drums up Support for Atlantic Ave. Multi-Use Path

UPDATE: Dougherty Resigns Haddon Twp. Commission, Barred from Office; Replacement to be Named

Cherry Hill 2028: an ‘American Post-War Suburb’ Pivots for Millennial, Boomer Needs

Schools

Local school coverage often doesn’t catch the notice of readers without children in the district until there’s a bond referendum or some other controversial item of interest. Nonetheless, public schools are often the sites at which a variety of community concerns intersect, and keeping an eye on their activities is part of the work we do.

In addition to being one of the only sources of school board candidate voting information, NJ Pen produced 25 stories about the districts in our coverage area in 2018. Here are a few of the highlights.

Threatened with Discipline, Fearful for Their Safety, Cherry Hill East Students Push Back After Teacher’s Suspension

National School Walkout Lifts Student Voices, Calls for Unity

Referendum Redux? Collingswood BOE Marks $750K for Stadium, but no Plan

When Back to School Means More than Academics

Cherry Hill School District, Bond Critics Regroup After Vote

Haddon Heights Considers Grade-Level Elementary School Alignment

Payroll Irregularities, Pension Errors Reported at Haddon Heights Schools

People

The “people” category is often a catch-all for our human interest news, which can be far-ranging in subject matter. From remembrances of lost neighbors to solutions-oriented public policies, we delivered 23 such stories in 2018. Here’s some of the most-read among them.

Nonprofit JEVS to Create Collingswood ‘Independence Network’ for People with Disabilities

Missing Steve Merton

‘Keep Families Together’ Rally in Collingswood Protests Border Enforcement Actions

Camden County ‘Friends 4 Vets’ Program Graduates Inmate-Trained Rescue Dogs for Service

Audubon Web Developer Pitches App to Reunite Detained Immigrant Children and Parents

Millennials Might Not be Fleeing NJ, But They’ve Still Got Generational Problems

NJ PEN Q&A: Collingswood Lexicogapher Kory Stamper

Arts

Local arts and artistry are among the least frequently covered topics in our coverage area, owing only to the limitations of our staffing. Yet in 2018, NJ Pen uncovered a handful of significant storylines among the local creative culture in South Jersey. Here’s a sampling.

Rowan Students Tackle ‘Music of Social Justice’ in Concert Series

‘East of Philly’ Multi-Town Summer Concert Series Coming to Collingswood, Haddon Heights, Merchantville

Haddonfield Outdoor Sculpture Trust Plans Residency Program at Bancroft Carriage House

Welcome to Collywood: Wiseguy Comedy Shoots at Kitchen Consigliere

Collingswood Artist Catches Lightning in a Bottle with Philly Tarot Project

Op/Ed

NJ Pen very infrequently offers editorial commentary on the events of the day, but is always welcoming of well-considered opinions and letters to the editor. We also have been fortunate to be able to publish the work of a handful of guest writers in 2018. Here’s a collection of the best essays and guest contributions from the past year.

Birds Blog: Eagles Win it All

Editorial: $20M Civic Info Bill Can Help Fund Local News in NJ

Words of Angehr: Reflections on the Queen of Soul

Opinion: Squirrel Hill, Tree of Life, and the Choice to Feel

Remembering Stan Lee

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