It’s no secret that Montclair State University has a reputation for high-impact student reporting. Students have traveled around the world, covering stories like the Arab Spring in Tunisia and the refugee crisis in Greece. They’ve won the student Emmy humanitarian award for work that highlights global human issues – twice – for reports that also won for best news on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the growing impact of climate change in New Orleans and Louisiana.
This year, student journalists did something different, focusing on worthy topics in their own corner of the world – traveling just five miles to find local stories with connections to international and national news in Paterson, New Jersey.
The result is a half-hour Montclair News Lab special titled Paterson|On The Rise.
“Sometimes the best story is the one in your own backyard,” says Steve McCarthy, a network TV news veteran and Emmy Award-winning producer, who teaches the class On The Road: Reporting From the Field.
The student-produced special takes a deep dive into the city’s history, from an industrial center of the United States and storied manufacturer of silks and other textiles to its struggles with poverty and crime. But the student journalists also sought out bright spots in New Jersey’s third-largest city, including a partnership with Montclair State University to revitalize “One Square Mile.”
“When you hear about Paterson, you hear about the bad stuff, but the work I did, I saw so many organizations that are really putting in a lot of hard work into making it a better place,” says graduating senior George Valdes.
This includes efforts by Justice Studies Professor Jason Williams, who is working on a program with student interns to help the community deal with addiction, violence and poverty, asking questions about making reforms in the criminal justice system “so that moving forward people don’t feel slighted, they don’t feel stigmatized.”
The News Lab special also features Wheatherly Almonte ’20, who after graduating from Montclair dedicated herself to educating and empowering teens and young adults in Paterson to make healthy life choices. She knows where the teens are coming from. She, too, grew up in Paterson and attended the same nonprofit program she now works for – the Communities Organizing for Prevention and Empowerment, or C.O.P.E., Initiative, dedicated to preventing substance abuse and the spread of HIV among underserved youth.
Other partnerships include the One Square Mile collaboration between the University and Paterson Public Schools and supported by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to provide health care, counseling, nutrition, education, job training and other programs at Eastside High School.
And then next to the Great Falls, the revival of Hinchliffe Stadium, one of baseball’s crown jewels and one of America’s last remaining Negro League ballparks, where the University and Paterson Public Schools (thanks to a $5 million donation from alumnus and Paterson native Chuck Muth ’77 and his wife, Laura) will operate a museum to tell the story of the league and the integration of baseball.
The Montclair reporting team – Francis Churchill, Catherine Kennedy, Brandon McAleer, Gina Palladino, Jessica Reyes, Sean Thrunk and George Valdes – spent time in the city, talking with homeless residents and the volunteers trying to make a difference. They interview Middle East immigrants and members of the Muslim community inside their mosque. And they tackle the recent police takeover making headlines and the shooting of a Black man going through a mental health crisis.
“The work we’ve done right here is as good as anything we’ve ever done,” McCarthy said during a screening of the project on May 8 in the School of Communication and Media. The show will air this summer on Hawk+, the official streaming platform of the School of Communication and Media.
For more on Montclair News Lab, visit Student Productions.
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren.
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