On Tuesday mornings last winter, my Advanced Journalism classmates and I tossed ideas around, trying to decide what we wanted to focus on for our semester-long investigative journalism projects. With time, discussion, and a little coffee, we decided to undertake a single project that would have the entire class pulling in the same direction, something unheard of for past advanced journalism classes. (Previously, students had focused on multiple, unrelated investigative projects.)
There was an obvious interest in Newark. Most—if not all—of us had volunteered there or spent time there for class projects. And Newark, like most places, has seen some hard times.
We split into smaller groups to investigate the city over a 10-week period. We had groups that would cover education, outreach, and health, among other topics. I was a member of the leadership group, as well as one of two students who would write the introductory story that would provide the details of the project.
On several occasions, I drove through Newark with classmates, videotaping different parts of the city and interviewing citizens as we encountered them. The result was a series of stories that detailed Newark’s history and future, and recently, The Newark Advocate ran four of those stories in their Sunday paper consecutively for four weeks.
Seeing my work in print is always exciting but, for me, something more gratifying came from this project: the reader comments on NewarkAdvocate.com. The first article to appear in The Advocate—the overview article that Alex Daniels ’12 and I researched and wrote—had 37 comments that, for the most part, were insightful and thought provoking.
One reader wrote, “I started checking into a lot of the vacated houses in the downtown area to purchase and fix up but started to realize that all of them, including the ones shown in the pictures for this article, are owned by the City of Newark. Someone needs to ask them what they are going to do with all these vacated properties they own.”
Another said, “Our granddaughter is visiting from Florida, and we have tried to show her all the places my husband and I remember from our childhood, and it is so sad and hard to explain how beautiful Newark once was.”
For me, it’s humbling to see our project come full circle as a discussion is formed around what we wrote. And this discussion is one that begs for change, which was the driving force behind our project from day one. I hope our writing will inspire people to, as Gandhi would say, “be the change they want to see,” because the discussion this series created is as good as nothing until people put their words into action.
Emily Hopcian ’12 is an English and communication major from Novi, Mich.