You spoke up, we listened. WHYY and NewsWorks just wrapped up the last of three New Jersey town hall meetings in Princeton, Burlington and Cherry Hill. The topic: What issues are most important to South Jersey?
What we heard was wide-ranging — from funding for public schools to issues in higher education, from environmental issues in the Pinelands to the Jersey Shore, from the disappearance of mom-and-pop shops from your communities to pubic radio funding cuts.
You told us what you liked and disliked about the news coverage in your area, and you gave us an honest assessment of the job WHYY and NewsWorks have done. And now, we want to hear more.
Tell us about the local issues you're not seeing in the news — the topics you want to know more about. Who in your community is making a difference? What are lawmakers in Trenton doing to make your life easier — or more difficult?
Below we summarize the dominant themes we heard from you. Our community forums have ended for now, but we want to leave the communication lines open.
One of three breakout groups discusses some of the issues affecting Mercer County residents during the first of three New Jersey community forums. (Alan Tu/WHYY)
Princeton Senior Resource Center, Princeton
Tuesday, April 3
More than 30 people joined us to tell us about problems with transportation and some of your concerns about the decisions being made by state lawmakers.
One theme we heard consistently touched on how New Jersey and Princeton were covered by area media outlets, including NewsWorks and WHYY.
Many of you told us you wanted to be challenged to see more than just the news in the greater Princeton area and Mercer County. Some of you felt you struggled to relate to the people being interviewed in various stories, while others told us you felt frustrated by the lack of news coverage in New Jersey.
Listen above to one comment from Mercer County resident Julia Sass Rubin.
Question: What issues aren't covered well by the news? What needs to be covered?
A summary of answers:
- Instead of an expert, talk to actual people.
- Find a way for people to reach out and communicate with news outlets, a way for people to bring information to news outlets.
- Get a diversity of political thought.
- Get voices of the people, the masses. Different perspectives equals unbiased news.
Chris Satullo, WHYY's Vice President of News and Civic Dialogue welcomes participants to the New Jersey community forum in Burlington earlier in May. (Josh Simeone/WHYY)
Lyceum Hall Center for the Arts, Burlington
Wednesday, April 25
In Burlington, more than 40 of you joined us to discuss your neighborhoods and communities and your overall views of the news in Burlington County.
By way of illustration, we showed you the famous 1976 Saul Steinberg New Yorker cartoon "View of the World From 9th Avenue." This is not how we see New Jersey.
We then gave you a blank outline of New Jersey and challenged you to show us how you see New Jersey — your own counties, areas, and points of interest. It was "New Jersey, according to you."
You didn't disappoint — offering everything from a region called "Wanna Be a Suburb of NY" in the middle of the state, to the "Piney Power" area of South Jersey.
See some of the more imaginative we received in the photo gallery below.
We heard a lot from you about developments in your communities. Some had stories of local shops struggling to stay in business. Others told us about the rich history of Burlington County that deserved more attention.
Many of you made us aware of a movement to make changes to New Jersey's alimony laws, sharing your experiences with divorce and its aftermath.
We continued the discussion the next day in our Speak Easy blog: "Do New Jersey's alimony laws need a tweak?" The post got instant attention and generated more than 50 comments (and still counting), making it one of NewsWorks' most commented stories.
The discussion continues, and we are continuing to look into the laws and the people affected by them.
A moderator listens to a group of participants in Cherry Hill during the third New Jersey community forum. (Josh Simeone/WHYY)
Cherry Hill Public Library, Cherry Hill
Monday, May 14
This time we brought NewsWorks videographer Kimberly Paynter to interview you about what brought you out on a rainy Monday night for our third and final forum. About 50 of you joined us.
In sharing with us the issues facing Camden County and surrounding communities, you gave us some great story ideas. You can see Kim's video above.
In group sessions that night, we heard some unique issues. Some of you brought up Cherry Hill's transportation issues, including the area's lack of bus and train options. Others gave local news operations a failing grade on informing the region about the area's continuing growth and development, especially along Route 70.
Some of you discussed your disapproval for what you saw as a lack of transparency in Trenton. You said you want to know how lawmakers are voting and why.
One common theme we heard that night was the lack of public school resources for children with dyslexia in the state. As a result, some of you said you were paying high tuitions to send your students to private schools just to give them the opportunity to learn.
Your concerns got us thinking: What are the experiences like in other areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware?
On Wednesday we opened up a NewsWorks discussion, "Assessing the needs of dyslexic students through shared stories." It's another issue we'll continue to follow, and we're interested to hear what our readers and listeners have to say about it.
Our town hall forums may have come to an end, but we're excited to continue hearing from you. Think of NewsWorks as the virtual door to our office — and it's always open.
Write it in an email, comment online, or give us a call. Or tell us what's on your mind in an essay for us to publish.