When TAPinto Paterson publisher, Steve Lenox, attended to the first organizing meeting of Creative Paterson, he had many questions in mind: “Who were those moving the community in the right direction? What organizations were trying to make a positive impact? Where was change going to come from?”
As he shares in this blog, that day it became evident for him, that if he truly wanted to tell the stories that weren’t being told and if he wanted to play a role in building a brighter future for Paterson, in changing perceptions and attitudes, he needed to be a part of this movement.
In this blog Steve shares how Creative Paterson was a great opportunity for him as a journalist to better know his community, get connected, and be part of the change Paterson needs.
CNJ Editor’s note: emphasis is ours in bold text below
In the nearly 20 years I’ve spent around government at all levels, most of them geared towards engaging various communities, whether through media or constituent outreach, voter mobilization or grassroots organizing, one thing is certain: the face of communications has changed drastically.
Indeed, even since 2010 when I took the entrepreneurial leap and launched my own public affairs firm, Lenox Consulting, the strategies have evolved and the tools have changed when it comes to developing and delivering key messages for and to relevant audiences.
However, there is one key component that has stood the test of time: effective communications are rooted in good storytelling.
In many corners, the demise of “traditional media” is much lamented. While there are the diehards among us, those consumers of news in print format, the ones that still revel in turning the pages or thumbing through to our most sought after section, are dwindling in numbers.
Even the days of anxiously awaiting our local weekly publication, getting a chance to peek into the lives of our neighbors through news reports, whether for the salacious news in the police blotter or for the more celebratory, like which players managed to hit the ball out of the park in the previous weekend’s little league battles, have largely disappeared.
Working in the public relations field I began to grow frustrated with the lack of outlets with the resources or desire to do the kind of storytelling, and make no mistake about it, that’s what the news is, storytelling, that truly can move a community forward.
For the news hungry public, especially those that want to know what is happening in their neighborhoods and on their block, all is not lost however.
“The decline of newspapers is not the same thing as the decline of local journalism,” an entrepreneur was recently quoted as saying in a story for NBC News about the rise of digital local news outlets.
Like most entrepreneurs I took the leap of purchasing the TAPinto Paterson franchise because I saw it as an established model that could fill a void that was affecting my business. Admittedly, I was no expert on New Jersey’s third largest city, but I knew there had to be more to it than what the long established outlets portrayed it to be.
With just a few months under my belt I found out more and more that I was right. The news being delivered most frequently, that depicting violence, corruption, homelessness, and a host of other societal issues wasn’t inaccurate, but it was incomplete.
I was determined to build TAPinto Paterson into a news source that was driven by the community, not by the worn out “if it bleeds it leads” mentality. That doesn’t mean readers won’t find the stories of tragedy, but instead that they will find these stories enveloped by others of triumph.
When I went to the first organizing meeting of Creative Paterson it wasn’t so much to sign on as a member of the Host Committee, it was more to help me learn more about the playing field I now found myself on. Who were those moving the community in the right direction? What organizations were trying to make a positive impact? Where was change going to come from?
Before the coffee had even grown stale at that kick-off meeting it became evident that if I truly wanted to tell the stories that weren’t being told, if I wanted TAPinto Paterson to play a role in building a brighter future for Paterson, in changing perceptions and attitudes, I needed to be a part of this movement.
There was a passion to make a difference that extended from that very first meeting right through the two-day Call to Collaboration in June. And, to be sure, that passion still exists even months removed from the time more than 200 individuals, with the most diverse array of backgrounds you can imagine, joined together to determine how to move their city, our city, on a path to become a “21st century model city.”
Perhaps what was the most remarkable aspect of the Creative Paterson effort, and most especially the Call to Collaboration, from a journalistic perspective, was not just the amazing range of stories told and ideas expressed, but rather the manner in which the communications took place.
Phrases like “game changers”, “think big”, and “important moment”, are certainly great headline fodder, but over the two days these words were much more than talking points. Participants came and gave their all not because they wanted to see their words or names in print, or online, but because they truly wanted to be part of making change happen.
While having a team of five journalists from TAPinto Paterson, including four high school student interns, meant that the proceedings were “on the record”, Creative Paterson gave attendees a safe space to share ideas and express opinions freely. Here are the articles about Creative Paterson written by the interns: “It’s Time For Paterson to Think Big“, “It Takes a Village” and “Renaming Paterson’s Neighborhoods.”
The trust that developed from the opening addresses and lasted throughout allowed for an environment where a treasure trove of stories could emerge. More than three months later, these stories are still evolving and being told thanks to meaningful relationships Creative Paterson helped give birth to.
While selfishly I reveled in being the only journalist to participate in Creative Paterson from start to finish because it meant that TAPinto Paterson has opportunities to present exclusive content to our readers, it would have been great to see other journalists there in efforts to uncover their own stories.
To effectively present community journalism reporters must become ingrained in the community as much as possible. Through Creative Paterson, TAPinto Paterson got closer to achieving that ideal.
Creative Paterson came at a time when residents were clamoring for change, and, from a governmental perspective, that change was going to come in the form of an election that took place just weeks before its efforts would be put to the test at Passaic County Community College.
Throughout his own successful campaign Andre Sayegh preached his message of “One Paterson” to any one that would listen. The theme, not dissimilar to Creative Paterson’s, that it will take an all hands on deck approach to spur the city’s renaissance resonated, as evidenced by his victory at the polls.
It’s not coincidence that much of what is included in Mayor Sayegh’s Transition Team report is reflective of what was discussed, strategized, and planned for by Creative Paterson. And with his Administration’s decision to plan out various goals in 100 day, six month, one year, and full four-year term increments, it is evident that the work of the volunteers that gave so much of themselves to the collaborative process will continue to come back into play during these timeframes.
And, as we remove pages off our calendars, readers of TAPinto Paterson can be assured that this is where we are going to continue to be generating our stories from. There’s not a week that goes by when I am not contacted by a community leader, or simply a resident, that has a story to tell about an effort that gets us all closer to the goal of becoming a city of hope and opportunity.
We are as anxious as ever to work with all of the organizations that made Creative Paterson a success, as well as many others, to generate meaningful content. We are as determined as ever to make an impact, whether that’s by giving our youngest readers voices through our internship program at Rosa Parks High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, sourcing tips from readers, or being active participants in, not just passive spectators of, community events.
These stories need to be told.
It’s Paterson’s time!
Throughout his 20-year career Steve has developed a meaningful network which extends through every level of government, business, the non-profit sector, the labor movement and academia, and, through his boutique public affairs firm, Lenox Consulting, which he launched in 2010. He is often sought after for his ability to “connect the dots” and bring about solutions to complex issues through mutual understanding and partnership.
In September, 2017, Steve expanded his business with his purchase of TAPinto Paterson, a hyperlocal news outlet focused on engaging the community in efforts to change the tenor of media reporting on New Jersey’s third largest city. After just 12 months, with that site averaging over 40,000 views a month, Steve purchased TAPinto Bayonne.
A dual citizen, Steve has also built an extensive network of government and business leaders in Ireland, where his wife Aoife is an educator and business owner while sons Conor, Cian and Dylan attend school.