Working Together Jackson

New Horizon Church International Bishop Ronnie Crudup (center right) and fellow Working Together Jackson members starts a meeting by welcoming each other at New Horizon in south Jackson. (Credit: Greg Jenson, CL)

I had the privilege of attending a meeting of the founding assembly of Working Together Jackson at New Horizon Church International, on June 14. Being a transplant, I never heard of the coalition of more than two dozen area churches and nonprofits, so I did a little research. The goal of the diverse coalition is twofold: to identify specific problems that Working Together Jackson wants to fix and to find people capable of leading others in creating a solution.

The group has been organizing behind the scenes for over two years and the assembly meeting’s purpose was to recap house meetings and discuss issues the group will tackle this fall. Well, judging from the audience of more than 600 people in these institutions, I could tell they were fired up and ready to get to work.

During the meeting, a theme was constantly mentioned: “We have a mind to work.” The coalition members have one thing in common: they see the trouble their beloved city and metro area is in, and want to make a difference. Positive civic and social change. So far, 94 house meetings and 906 leadership training sessions have been held.

“People come together and discover a common good, come together as a people that dare to cross the lines that undermine progress,” said Rev. Mark Williamson, of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. “We have rolled up our sleeves and we are ready to go.”

The are many issues the coalition will address: education, health care, neighborhood revitalization and housing, living wage employment, infrastructure, crime, youth issues, family issues, economic development, senior issues and disability issues.

Things have already taken shape with Working Together Jackson. For instance, Lake Elementary is working with True Vine and Rosemont Baptist churches on fixing the campus and increasing parental involvement. The coalition helped establish the Hope Credit Union branch in Utica and is working to develop one in Edwards, to help citizens establish financial literacy and access to finances.

The next steps will entail more training sessions and organize teams to look for leaders. Then, the coalition will begin to look at what issues to address. Over the summer, research actions will seek solutions to the problems and ways to implement them. Working Together Jackson will also partner with other institutions and city leaders on mutual interests. Then, on Oct. 25, 2012, Working Together Jackson will conduct a training and strategy session looking at results and beginning to form metro area-wide issue action teams.

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Watching my steps…daily.

A sign outside my apartment building that gets ignored

Why do pet owners choose to ignore this kind of sign?

A recent story in The Clarion-Ledger written by Dustin Barnes explains why Belhaven University banned dogs from campus, a move that has unnerved students and people that like to walk their dogs there. When I read the story, I can understand why the university has taken this position. I’m sure not every dog owner neglected to pick up poop, but repeat offenders needed to be stopped. When the school’s president Roger Parrott said people had been putting their dogs in the fountains, like the private campus was some kind of public puppy pool park, that made me shake my head. A campus littered with dog waste, with a foul smell that blows in the wind is not a good look.

The school did have a pet policy that requires pets to be on leashes and waste cleaned up, but the school has to draw the line. However, it’s not fair for pet owners that have to find safe areas to walk their pets. And the story explains that Belhaven residents have complained of pet owners no picking up after their dogs. What is so hard about pet owners following a simple rule of courtesy and public health?

This brings me to a personal experience. I live in The Trace apartments in Ridgeland, going on two years in September. I enjoy living in this quiet complex that’s close to every thing I need. I also live near pet owners in neighboring buildings and I know exactly where they walk their dogs – mainly to relieve themselves on the grass – and I don’t see a scoop or plastic baggie on them. I wish I knew which neighbor failed to pick up poop so I could report them. Seriously. It’s gotten out of hand.

A sign was placed outside my apartment building several months ago when other residents complained to management about waste not being picked up. Yet and still, pet owners leave waste on paths where people have to walk to their cars. I always have to look down so I don’t step in crap. I even saw a huge pile in the middle of the bridge leading to my building WITH a footprint in it. O_o

Again, why can’t adults follow rules? It’s so annoying when I’m walking to the mail box or laundry room and I can smell dog poop. It turns my stomach. And I could complain, but unless I knew exactly who was leaving crap, management won’t know who to send a letter to. Ugh.

Until then, I will continue to watch where I step.

Learning curve.

Adjusting to a new beat is always a challenge, a common thing for journalists. As the times change, beats change. And I consider myself to be good at adjusting to changes. But this new beat has thrown me for a loop! This learning curve has to be the toughest one yet. Going from covering two cities to nine areas in the Jackson metro area is nothing light. It’s like plugging myself in to a large power strip with every outlet being a city/area that I’m connecting to. Then, establishing more connections to people, media and businesses is another daunting task. But, through social media, that seems to be going well.

The learning curve also involves my style of writing. Sometimes people tell me that I write the way I speak. I can never tell. There are things my editor Grace brings to my attention that I need to work on:

1. Make the news briefs conversational. The briefs are a mix of hard news, interesting people or things, and events people can attend every week. But, briefs need to lure readers in and make them pay attention. Then my main story at the top of the page is the hard news story on a topic that makes a big impact on a community. It’s like a column, but no first person point of view. Briefs can’t be so loaded with information that the news gets lost in legalize/jargon. So, I need to write with the style of speaking to a person on the street.

2. Improve news judgment. I look at so many meeting agendas, press releases, stories and talk to several sources every week to glean some news that can be used for briefs. When I come across something, I have to ask myself if I were a resident or business owner, how would this such-and-such action/news impact my life/pockets/bottom line? I have to stay away from hyper local things that are reserved for the non dailies in Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties. Not too many people would care about someone being promoted at a business, but people would care about a longtime high school principal retiring and the person to take their place. New ordinances. Tax hikes. Major projects. My news judgment has to involve the bigger picture and what’s interesting to talk about. This is a work in progress for me, but people get the deal when they see the page.

Those are a couple examples early in the transition period, and I’m sure more lessons will be learned. Most of all, I want to provide you with content that’s interesting and meaningful to your community and make you aware of things happening elsewhere. I hope the Suburban Digest page accomplishes these things and gain a strong readership base here.

Another Digest page is in!

Now I wait for more edits. But I don’t really have much else too add if a brief can’t run. What’s a girl to do when some cities have nothing going on? I’ll just press on, doing what I’ve been doing daily…searching and calling, searching and calling.

Next, I have to find a story on one of the cities for next week. And find more news for briefs. At least finding interesting and profound quotes from stories and comment sections isn’t too complicated. I’ve heard some pretty good feedback on the new page. My editor Grace says the goal is to NEVER have to make a correction on the page.

So now I have to no longer be human. Haha! We’ll see…I’ve only had seven corrections since I’ve been here. I’m just ready for this beat to become second nature to me.

Suburbs and social media

Ever since graduate school and entering the wonderful world of professional print journalism, I have seen how important social media is to my job. Back at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, I didn’t frequent Facebook that much because it was still relatively exclusive to college and high school students in 2007-08. I don’t recall cities, businesses, and people older than 30 (no offense, middle agers) being on Facebook. Not even my professors were on the site! Anyway, using the site for my stories and assignments wasn’t really needed.

Fast forward to 2009, at my first real gig at the Mansfield News Journal and Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum in central Ohio (both are owned by Gannett, which made my transfer here easy). I vividly remember being assigned a story about a violent fight at Galion High School, where a foster student and popular football player attacked a senior in a classroom, sending the kid to the hospital with serious injuries. The victim’s classmates created a Facebook page out of support for his recovery and to update the Galion community on his progress. That page allowed me to keep up with the student’s condition, connect with his family members and friends, and show how Facebook helped me get sources and information that was able to be confirmed. That’s when I started to see the importance of being connected to the community through social networks.

When I moved to Ridgeland to begin my job at the Madison County Herald, I had to start a Facebook page for the Jackson metro area. I didn’t want people to confuse my collegiate page with my professional work, so a “professional” page was meant to establish connections and build sources. At my old job, I rarely stayed on Facebook and Twitter out of fear for being scolded by editors; now I stay on both sites so I can stay updated on happenings throughout Mississippi. Since fall of 2010, I have built a good network of friends, young professionals, cities, media, businesses, residents and city officials on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. These connections have gotten stronger since assuming my new beat as suburban reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in May. Since I now cover nine areas – Brandon, Byram, Canton, Clinton, Flowood, Madison, Pearl, Reservoir area, Ridgeland – for the weekly Suburban Digest page, I made sure to look up and send requests for multiple elected officials, businesses, media outlets, residents and city/resident led Facebook pages.

The most active city and resident pages are from Byram, Canton, Cinton, Madison/Madison County and Brandon. Residents post comments daily on issues, accomplishments, events, new businesses and crime! Byram Police Department posts weekly incident reports, Clinton is all over the map with business, city, economic development and school news. Canton residents post about events and how they can support each other and help the city improve and grow. And it goes on and on. When I need help from city officials, I send Facebook messages and some answer immediately. Take for instance Byram Alderwoman Theresa Marble, who answered my question while on Facebook chat. I asked about the city’s two new traffic lights for a brief on the page and she is SO helpful!

I finally understand why it’s so important for journalists to stay connected to their communities. Instantaneous communication and information is so helpful for us, but it’s also to our detriment. The opportunities to be scooped or scoop any other media outlet are constant. I always stay conscious of this, even making sure I don’t make errors or give improper tone or context. It’s fun, challenging, helpful and enlightening for me. The suburbs, from what I’ve seen, are pretty active and more are joining Facebook every month because they see how great it is to stay connected. This makes my job a little more fun and easier.

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