Building Community By Rebuilding Journalism
We had been hosting an in-person writers group before the pandemic in the city of McKeesport, a place that lost its daily newspaper after 131 years. We had started out with the goal of helping citizens start telling their own stories to replace the professional journalists who longer existed.
About 8 to 16 people were coming out a couple of times a month to work on journalistic storytelling with Martha Rial, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who heads up the community newsroom, and Nicole Peeler, an English professor from nearby Seton Hill University. The Pittsburgh Foundation has put $150,000 into the two-year program.
The pandemic threatened this project: Several of the participants do not have computers or smartphones. One participate uses a typewriter to craft his stories, while another hand-writes her stories and we use an optical scanner to turn them into digital text. We could hold virtual events, but who would attend?
It turns out that almost everyone found a way to attend. Martha worked to keep everyone connected, and she provided a laptop computer to the woman who did not have one. When the writer’s group celebrated its one-year anniversary this summer, Martha drove around to each person’s house and delivered a boxed-up cupcake so everyone could celebrate when they met online.
Through this year, the group not only has continued to meet – but the citizens created an anthology of their writing (detailed below). We learned two things: Citizens are able to generate meaningful original content, and they are building community as they do so.
This year has presented many unique challenges, and many hardships with people dying, getting sick, losing jobs, suffering in isolation. Moments such as these ones with the McKeesport Community Newsroom have carried us through the difficult times and helped us see the value we find in those around us.
Happy holidays, and happy new year from all of us at the CMI.
– Director Andrew Conte and CMI staff
Header: Holiday greetings from the CMI team.