PATERSON, NEW JERSEY — PatersonPress.com, a hyperlocal news site for Paterson, N.J., brings an old-school mentality to a new era of journalism. Editor Joe Malinconico said that traditional, shoe leather reporting is what makes Paterson Press shine. That’s also what won the site two New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists awards only eight months after it launched.
Paterson Press launched in October 2010 as a project of the Citizens Campaign, a nonprofit organization that educates citizens on how to be active in local government. The group believes that citizens who have more information about local government and politics will become more engaged in the political process.
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Malinconico, a thirteen-year veteran of the Newark Star Ledger, assumed the editor position after being approached by Harry Pozycki, founder of Citizens Campaign. The two knew each other from the days Malinconico covered Middlesex County and Pozycki was a County Freeholder. Unused to teaming up with politicians and less than enthused about certain aspects of web journalism, Malinconico admits to a bit of skepticism.
“There’s a part of me, the old curmudgeon, who’s very leery about the whole online craze,” Malinconico says. “It’s still a mixed bag.”
Malinconico says that the content of the site is based on traditional, aggressive reporting–“no smoke and mirrors, just hard work.”
“Frankly,” he says, “that’s what’s missing in some of the other so-called hyperlocal sites I’ve seen.”
Paterson Press fills a void in local news. Until the site launched, most print coverage of Paterson, the third-largest city in New Jersey, was done by larger, regional papers like the Bergen Record and Star Ledger. According to Malinconico, the Ledger dumped coverage of Paterson’s Passaic County five years ago. Though the Record still covers many stories in the area, Paterson Press has been able to dig deeper into those stories.
For example, when the Board of Education decided to withdraw off-duty police officers from city schools as a cost-cutting measure, the regional papers took note. But Paterson Press went a step further. Thirty days after the policy went into effect, the site got hold of police records to see if school complaints had risen in that period. They had. A couple of weeks after Paterson Press’s story ran, the policy was changed and the police came back. Malinconico admits that there’s no easy way to prove a cause-effect relationship, but he does think the site managed to “shine a light in a dark place in Paterson.” The larger papers “didn’t have the commitment to Paterson to dig a little deeper,” Malinconico says. “That’s what we did.”
The site is neatly organized, with top news stories showing up at the head of the homepage. Scrolling down, a user will see more categories like News (“Two Councilmen Try to Oust Goow“), Sports (“Marcel Shipp’s Football and Cheerleading Camp“), and Community Life (“City Man Pursues His Passion in Playwriting“). Two columns of advertising plainly line the sides of the page.
While Paterson Press strives to function like a traditional paper, it doesn’t have the resources to recruit journalists like one. Malinconico has a staff of around six stringers, but no full-time reporters. He said that he does most of the muckraking and writes most of the stories while grooming his stringers, many of whom are aspiring journalists. The team posts one to five new stories a day, and stringers are paid from $25 to $60 for a story.
Paterson Press is funded by a $57,000 grant from the Taub Foundation, through the Citizens Campaign. The Citizens Campaign has also started another New Jersey hyper-local news site, the New Brunswick Press, as well as the Hyperlocal News Association, an organization to help promote the development of hyperlocal news. The Taub grant expires in the fall, but the Citizens Campaign is looking for funders, as well as advertisers, to keep it sustainable. Citizens Campaign provides content to the site’s “Civic Corner,” which provides tutorials and information about the government process.
Malinconico is confident that there’s a lot more for Paterson Press to dig into. “If I had five full-time experienced reporters to work this city, we would never have a slow period,” he says. “There’s so much to probe and cover– good, bad, and different.”