Community News Commons celebrates five years of convening, educating and empowering citizen journalists
These are just a few of the comments from citizens who participated in Community News Commons, the citizen journalism/community engagement initiative that, after five years in operation, came to an end on Dec. 8, 2017.
It was 2012 when The Winnipeg Foundation, with the help of a matching three-year grant from U.S.-based Knight Foundation, unveiled the unique CNC project. After the initial three years of support from Knight, The Foundation solely funded the project.
Over the years, under the guidance of Convener Noah Erenberg, CNC successfully trained and engaged hundreds of citizens in creating multimedia, online journalism.
This effort led to the publishing of thousands of stories and photographs as well as numerous audio and video files, contributed by a diverse group of citizens of all walks of life from various neighbourhoods across Winnipeg and Manitoba.
The project’s primary partners, the Winnipeg Free Press and Free Press Café, Winnipeg Public Library, Red River College and 93.7 CJNU, helped train citizens by offering up local media professionals as instructors and by providing locations for multi-media workshops, held twice-aweek for six weeks, every spring and fall from 2012 to 2017.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to learn about writing, photography and videography, podcasting, investigative journalism, and I’ve learned from an amazing array of people actively engaged in Winnipeg’s varied communities,” says Ian Irvine, who participated in CNC for most of its tenure. “I’ve learned about citizen journalism and its increasing value and importance in today’s ever-changing society.”
CNC also hosted forums where community members gathered to discuss issues, including active transportation, youth engagement, poverty, and more.
In addition, once a month, citizen reporters met as a group to discuss story ideas and to exchange advice on how best to cover specific topics.
“Today, I am less afraid and less tentative in writing for an audience,” says Susan Cameron, one of many citizens who participated in CNC.
“I look at the world with more curiosity and wonder,” she explains. “I am able to ask the questions and get the back story. From street people to bus riders to politicians, everybody has a back story. That is the empowerment philosophy [project Convener] Noah has given me. “
CNC successfully created a platform where hundreds of novice journalists published posts that were consumed and commented on by readers locally and from around the world.
Several CNC stories were picked up by media outlets and shared by local organizations, as an active social media presence helped disseminate content.
CNC participants successfully built their capacity as communicators, with some going on to acquire jobs in communication-related fields, or to sell their stories, photos and videos that first appeared on CNC.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” says Doug Kretchmer, one of the citizen reporters who sold some of his work after it was posted to CNC. “The workshops have been so wonderful. The monthly writing meetings are also so inspirational. I feel so indebted to Noah Erenberg for his help and guidance in helping me become a writer.”
An online archive of content published on CNC is available at cncwpg.org and serves as a testament to the dedication displayed by those who participated in this project.
“My experience with Community News Commons was, as a writer, an unimaginable opportunity,” says Shirley Kowalchuk, who wrote on a myriad of topics.
“It’s so much more than the stories,” explains another writer, Anne Hawe. “It’s all the relationships I have made through CNC, the experiences I’ve had. So many highlights … so many things I’ve learned through doing research for CNC, and above all it’s been having Noah as our convenor, editor.”
“Noah Erenberg brought such a level of professional ability with personal ability,” says Gloria Romaniuk. “He’s a wonderful nurturer, he’s very respectful and this CNC enterprise allowed a wide range of people to have the chance to experiment with their ideas and with their abilities.”
CNC successfully fulfilled its goals of prompting citizens to be more curious about their community and in turn, to care more about its future.
“Community News Commons characterizes community journalism at its best,” says participant Barry Colby. “Community journalism is intimate, caring, and very personal. It reflects the community and tells its stories. And, it embraces a leadership role at the grassroots.”
As this successful and innovative project wraps up, it’s clear that Community News Commons achieved its stated goal, that
‘A more informed and engaged community is a more caring and giving community.’