Rowan Journalism Department Receives $40K Grant Towards Reporting South Jersey Climate Change

South Jersey Climate News' social media logo. -Photo / Mark Berkey-Gerard.

Editor’s note: This story was revised 10/27 for clarity

Rowan’s Journalism Department announced they will receive $40,000 from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium on Thursday, Oct. 13. Professors Mark Berkey-Gerard and Dianne Garyantes from the Journalism Department received the grant for the South Jersey Climate News project. 

The grant will help expand news coverage about climate change in South Jersey. Students can exercise paid internships as part of the grant. During the grant cycle, journalism faculty at Rowan University will host an in-person training workshop for local reporters, editors and publishers as well as college and high school student journalists. 

They plan to put a video on the South Jersey Climate News’ website. The video will be a collaboration with the Radio, Television & Film department. Garyantes stated that last year they began putting videos on the site and are going to continue that and expand it. They are also looking to even have a film for the site that would be paid out of this grant. Revamping and upgrading the look of the site is also on the agenda.

The South Jersey Climate News project of Rowan University is a collaborative student-driven journalism initiative that explores the effects of climate change on a local and regional level in southern New Jersey. The goal is to better inform the public about the challenges of climate change and explore potential solutions through the news and information. The project seeks to diversify journalism education and support local news organization capacity for environmental reporting.

Berkey-Gerard stated that South Jersey has fewer news organizations than North Jersey. Many of the areas don’t have a local paper, radio station or local TV station to get more news and information. Areas have become news deserts, where there are no publications covering news in some towns and regions. 

“Environmental topics are not specific to one town. They’re regional, they’re statewide and they’re global. So it’s a way to kind of connect and have more people covering those topics,” said Berkey-Gerard.

South Jersey Climate News will be collaborating with Jon Akass over the grant. Akass is a lecturer and coordinator for Rowan Productions at Rowan University. The Radio, TV & Film department will be working with Atlantic Cape Community College students to cover articles.

According to Professor Berkey-Gerard, the grant hopes to not only reach Rowan students but also try to connect with different kinds of students, who are not learning about journalism.

“It’s like with everything we’re doing, we’re trying to plant seeds and then hopefully, expand from there,” Garyantes said.

The journalism department is in collaboration with The Hammonton Gazette on another grant from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium. The second grant, for $35,000, was awarded to The Hammonton Gazette to address the issue of “news deserts” in South Jersey. A “news desert,” as defined by the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at the University of North Carolina, is “a community, either rural or urban, with limited access to the sort of credible and comprehensive news and information that feeds democracy at the grassroots level.”

Part of the grant money awarded to The Hammonton Gazette will be used to hire Rowan journalism students as freelancers to cover local meetings in “news deserts” in the South Jersey region. Rowan also is a fiscal sponsor of the grant.

Garyantes states that these news deserts will be receiving complete coverage regularly. 

“So this is part of the way that we can start to address information gaps,” said Garyantes. “We have students who are ready to learn and ready to start, get out there and start reporting. And it’s a great partnership.”

The grant will not only cover climate change and news deserts but help students grow as reporters. Berkey-Gerard believes that there is only so much you can learn in a classroom about journalism.

“I think the bulk of what you learn is when you’re out trying to cover a story and you’re interviewing people and you’re at an event,” Berkey-Gerard said.

He sees that news organizations have shrunk over the last decade. This gives fewer opportunities for students like internships and entry-level jobs.

Garynates acknowledges the benefit of students working with local news outlets.

“We build our collaborations with local news outlets throughout South Jersey and we have our students not only writing for them, but getting jobs in these local news organizations,” Garynates said. “I felt strongly that we should try to help people understand what the effects are and what possible solutions there are to get consistent meaningful coverage in our backyard.”

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