Introduction to the Community Conversations Project
The Critical Conversations project is the culminating exercise for students in the Spring, 2013 Race, Gender and News class that seeks to develop a model for comprehensive and inclusive reporting on an important, complex and sometimes divisive news issue. This semester, our focus is on public education in Trenton, New Jersey.
About the class
Race, Gender and News (syllabus -.pdf) is an intermediate-level class cross-listed in the Journalism/Professional Writing and African American Studies programs at The College of New Jersey that offers a theoretical and practical introduction to the issues surrounding the quest for news industry that incorporates the diverse perspectives required , as the American Society of Newspaper Editors put it, “to cover communities fully, to carry out their role in a democracy, and to succeed in the marketplace.” Although the class was originally conceived as a course for journalism/professional writing majors and minors, today about half the students come from other majors without prior journalism education.
Students spend the first half of the semester learning about the historical role of news media in the social construction of race and gender. They considered the ways in which those constructed categories affected the conception and implementation of ideas such as journalistic objectivity. Their texts included readings from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and such writers as David Mindich, Pamela Newkirk and Eric Deggans. They also explored two potential approaches to making journalism practice systematically more inclusive: Gilda Parella’s argument for Consensus-Building Journalism and Abdul Alkalimat’s D7 method for conducting black studies research. While the use of Alkalimat’s work in this context is an unconventional choice, it offers an opportunity to reflect on the epistemology of journalism from a fresh perspective. The Critical Conversations project offers an opportunity to put the ideals that they have assimilated from these readings to the test.
Trenton: A City in Crisis
Trenton, the capital city of New Jersey, is beset with many of the problems afflicting rust belt cities across the US: declining population, a shrinking tax base, high unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and chronically under-peforming schools. It also suffers from a leadership crisis: its controversial mayor, Tony Mack, is under federal indictment, along with some of his key aides and supporters. Much of the nation became acquainted with the difficulties confronting Trenton as a result of a 2012 story by the public radio show, This American Life about an upsurge in crime after the mayor responded to a budget crunch by taking more than 100 police officers off the streets.
In the midst of this drama, Trenton’s residents struggle to obtain the kind of education that will give their children a fighting chance at succeeding in college or a career. Working in teams, our student reporters delved into aspects of the battle for quality education in Trenton that rarely get in-depth coverage. These pages present what they found, and the conversations that ensued from their investigation.