In its second full year of operation, Camden County’s independent, local news source has worked to deepen connections with the communities it serves with timely conversations about local issues.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 30, 2016
This past year has been a tough one for American journalism.
In 2016, we were introduced to the concept (and effects) of “fake news,” we saw more layoffs at big media outlets across the board, and preparations for consolidations, mergers, and buyouts of others.
In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie took aim at print publications with a bill designed to undercut their public-notice revenues, and concerns continue to mount both statewide and nationally about public records access.
As media continues to play a significant part in our daily experience, whether online, print, or broadcast, the onus is on its producers to do their jobs to a high ethical standard, and with attention to the needs of the communities it serves.
That has always been the focus here at NJ Pen, and as we review our work from the past year and set intentions for 2017, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to see what we’ve been able to do and where we might go from here.
Breaking news and what happens next
In 2016, “police and fire” was our dominant story category, led by breaking news about fires, highway accidents, homicides, and more. In addition to bringing readers the most timely and accurate information available without sensationalizing tragedies, we worked to go beyond the imminent details of these events to offer context wherever possible. You can see those efforts in our coverage of difficult stories of intimate violence, like the fatal beating of Pennsauken toddler Jamil Baskerville, Jr. and the stabbing death of Quick Stop owner Seema Singh, but also in our follow-ups to highway deaths and a downtown bomb scare.
Prosecutor: Defendant in Pennsauken Killing Told Toddler ‘Put Your Hands Up’ Before Alleged Fatal Beating
UPDATE: Police ID Victim in Fatal Shooting on Pennsauken/Merchantville Border
Police Investigations Mandated for Discipline Issues at Collingswood Schools
After Fatal Cherry Hill House Fire, Grieving Neighborhood Regathers
Pedestrian Hospitalized After Early-Morning Accident in Haddon Twp.
In addition to following up on breaking news, our role as shoe-leather journalists—and some of the best work we may have the opportunity to do—involves connecting the dots on larger community issues like environmental health, social justice, and future forecasting. Here’s a handful of some of our in-depth reporting from the past year.
‘Creepy Clown’ Facebook Threat Targets Collingswood, Pennsauken, Woodbury, West Deptford Schools
Community, Transparency Core Values as Police Body Cam Programs Expand
Turnover at South Jersey Tourism Group Spurred by State Funding Shortfall
Sometimes news that breaks in our communities belies their deeper social fabric, or simply shows how national and international issues may provoke a local response or affect our neighborhoods. When policing concerns and gun violence became national stories, we explored the ways in which our communities responded. Here are some of the highlights.
Anonymous Sign Targets ‘Mexicans,’ Invokes Trump in Haddon Twp.
In Cherry Hill, Seeking Community Solutions to Understanding Islamic Extremism
After Terrorist Attacks, Pakistanis in South Jersey Seek Understanding, Community
South Jersey Women’s Group Marches for Peace in Collingswood
Profiles and human interest
In addition to tackling big-picture questions, sometimes the most interesting stories we picked up were among the smallest in scope. Our profiles of longtime community servants, innovative thinkers, and folks doing very interesting things were among some of the best-read pieces of 2016. Here’s a sampling.
There and Back Again: Collingswood Cyclists Complete Cross-Country Trek
Rutgers Professor Roger Clark Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
As residents of some of the oldest settled territory in the country, redeveloping the communities in which we reside is the most significant challenge of our generation. With very little green space available and many empty or disused remnants of earlier years around, Camden County communities are primed for a changeover of their existing infrastructure. NJ Pen works to follow the throughlines of the stories behind the community reinvestment, whether in our “Visions for 2016” chats with local leaders or extended coverage of broader planning agendas for the region. Here’s what some of those stories were this year.
Collingswood to Tackle ‘Dirty Dozen’ Abandoned Properties Under New Rehab Rules
Overhauled Oaklyn Villas Cap Redevelopment Push with Ribbon-Cutting
As DNC Philly Kicks Off, Labor Leaders Talk Infrastructure Investment in Camden
Building Blocks of a Viable Downtown on the Camden Waterfront
Almost as much of our coverage was dedicated to local economic stories as to police, fire, and local government news. Our “First Look” series gives readers a visual preview of the newest spots in town, and in 2016, we’ve welcomed three breweries, three restaurants, two bakeries, a supermarket, and a recording studio, among others. As the regional economy turns on small business development and the spurring of downtown enterprise, we offer a focus on the people whose work keeps the local neighborhood alive with activity. Here’s a number of our most popular reads.
NJ Pen First Look: Oaklyn’s Tonewood Brewing Sets June 4 Opening
Collingswood Couple Breaks Ground on New American Restaurant
Haddonfield Pizza Landscape Shifts: Villa Rosa Heads Downtown, Passariello’s to Move in
New Gradwell House Studio Enters Homestretch at Haddon Heights Masonic Lodge
In addition to our in-depth election coverage of local board of education candidates—a staple of our local election voter guide, we tracked a number of significant school stories this year. From breaking the story about the dust-up between the Collingswood school district and the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, which became national news, to detailed coverage of a school bond referendum in Haddonfield and the fate of the Oaklyn school district, we tracked the most meaningful community conversations and worked to bring them home for our readers.
Consultants Recommend Oaklyn School Expand Send-Receive with Collingswood
Weeks Ahead of Referendum, Haddonfield Schools Face Bond Opposition
Woodlynne Considers Pulling out of Collingswood Schools for Pennsauken
CCC ‘Bridging the Gap’ Program Offers Free or Half-Priced Rutgers Tuition
Some of the greatest successes our organization generated in 2016 didn’t happen within the confines of our printed work, just as the work of any business isn’t always confined to the walls of its facilities. In the wake of a handful of bias incidents in our coverage area, we hosted An Uncomfortable Conversation, a free community event designed to facilitate discussion about our intersecting demographics.
Our annual free Holiday Gift Guide, another facet of our commitment to local small businesses, reached 2,500 readers in print and thousands more electronically. We also moderated a free, six-candidate Board of Education discussion forum ahead of the elections in Collingswood, provided a variety of opportunities for our community bloggers to reach our readership, and even offered a couple of op/ed pieces of our own.
In 2017, we hope to be able to continue providing the same level of high-quality local news you have come to expect as our organization enters its third full year. We have applied for grant funding to cover the cost of rolling out a few special projects, like a research feature on immigration, mobile reporting application set, and a podcast. We are preparing a special, third-anniversary fundraiser event that we believe has the potential to be a lot of fun, and we will continue to work on growing our member benefits for our subscriber supporters, including contests for exclusive prizes like this year’s Collingswood Board Co skateboard giveaway.
All of this will not be possible, however, without the sustained financial support of readers in our coverage area. If you’re enjoying the work that we provide, if you believe in what we do, and if you want to help us stick around for another year, there are some key things you can do to help.
- Become a paid subscriber. This is the most critical avenue to our operations: the direct support of our readers. For less than $9 a month, you can provide a sustaining contribution that will enable us to pay our staff, promote our work, host special events, and improve the level of service we can offer. Click here to make a contribution.
- Take out an ad. Do you own a local business, or do you want to reach more people in our coverage area? We offer affordable advertising rates and a free community calendar. Contact us for details. Don’t need to advertise? Support our advertisers—and tell them where you heard about their business.
- Follow us on social media. Throw our page a like on Facebook, follow our Twitter and Instagram feeds, and don’t be shy about sharing the stories that we produce. Every time you do so, you help expand our readership to other people who can use the information.
- Subscribe to our e-mail list. Want to know when our new stories are published? You’ll be able to keep up with everything through our subscription service.
- Tell a friend about NJ Pen. If you know someone who could benefit from the work we’re doing, tell them about us. We never charge to read our content. We do not block out your screen with ads. We believe in keeping our work accessible, available, and reliably responsive to the communities we serve. Let people know we’re here doing this work, and we can do more of it.
Thanks to all of you who’ve come along for this ride. We do it all for you, and we cannot continue to do it without more of you. Best wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017.
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