Climate change, precarious work, poverty, and mass incarceration are just some of the topics covered by the students writing for NJ Spark, a social justice journalism lab based at SC&I.
NJ Spark “enables students to do journalism for their communities and to focus on stories often out of view,” said its creator, SC&I’s Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Todd Wolfson.
A multimedia publication, NJ Spark matches undergraduate students with community partners, and together they report on underserved local communities, with the goal of “sparking” change by bringing attention to the communities facing inequality and other forms of injustice.
The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has provided funding in support of NJ Spark for the last five years, and the lab has recently received another $35,000 in support from the foundation for the coming year.
Focusing on different types of media such as video production, op-ed writing, and long- form investigative pieces, NJ Spark is linked directly with the Journalism and Media Studies undergraduate course taught by Wolfson, titled Media, Movements, and Community Engagement.
The course teaches students the important role journalism can play in promoting and sharing social justice issues and creating change. “From local communities to international issues, the course encourages students to enhance their skills to tell compelling stories through different forms of media.” Wolfson said. “The way we work the class allows students to formulate their own project plans and create them. Students have real control over the work that they do, and the program allows students to have a voice in what they do with their education.”
Each semester Wolfson and the students choose a new theme as the focus of their work. Building their work around a theme enables students to make connections to and build relationships with partner organizations, and gives them perspective on the different work that can be done locally, Wolfson said.
Part-time lecturer and creative engagement lead for NJ Spark, Daniel Swern, said NJ Spark’s aim is to make young journalists more active and responsible for the spread of campaigns that can create change in the world.
The idea for NJ Spark, Wolfson said, “grew from work that I had been doing with the Media Mobilizing Project. I took some of the principles that were developed there and translated them into a classroom setting." According to their website, The Media Mobilizing Project amplifies the voices of communities fighting for justice, equity, and human rights through media production, training and advocacy, and building relationships of solidarity and mutual support.
Wolfson said NJ Spark’s focus on local issues and injustices is what separates it from other Rutgers undergraduate publications such as The Daily Targum and Kairos Magazine.
“We go out of our way to partner with community groups, and work with them to create media about their issues and have an explicit focus on social justice,” Wolfson said.
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