In a dim underground meeting space, a lively discussion is volleying around a U-shaped table. The acoustics are muffled, but the energy crackles.
Reporters pitch stories, couching nuggets of information in brief, staccato stanzas that are alternately amusing, interesting and serious.
Editors listen, then counter with questions. “What’s up with the medical academy?” and “Are you sure those things are connected; should it be two stories?”
But while the meeting takes place in a multipurpose room in the bowels of City Hall, this is no guerrilla news organization or insurgent media outlet. This is RichmondPulse.org, the newest news team in town, and one that has recently seen a surge in interest from readers and local leaders. Richond Pulse was launched last month, and is growing as a multimedia news website funded and overseen by New America Media, a collaborative of ethnic media outlets across the country.
The local team consists of four regular editors and reporters from New America Media (NAM) who specialize in different aspects of multimedia journalism. But the heart of the pulse are the more than a dozen local youths who are learning the craft and reporting on Richmond from a fresh perspective that professional regional media is hard-pressed to match.
“I think there is a real need for us in Richmond to hear from people like you,” said Nicole Valentino, a community liaison for Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, as she attended Richmond Pulse editorial meeting April 18, mostly to listen to the work the local kids had in development. “There is something special, and growing, about this idea that young people from within a community can have a voice in telling the community’s stories.”
Malcolm Marshall, a NAM staff member who acts as a managing editor and multimedia mentor to the youths, said the news project is based on concepts that continue to gain traction in the new media landscape.
“What makes (Richmond Pulse) different from other news organizations is that it is community-based, youth-led, and with a focus on any issue that affects the health of the overall community,” Marshall said.
So far, Richmond Pulse has published a range of local multimedia packages touching on weighty topics like homelessness and the homicide of North Richmond resident Ervin Coley III, but also mixed in lighter fare like event coverage of a women’s solidarity celebration and a video and story about a young man who loves to care for and train pit bulls.
The rise of Pulse comes at a time of continued downsizing of major metro newspapers and a growth in smaller news organizations, operating on a model of low-cost desktop publishing, small staffs and varied revenue streams, including grant funding and donations, and benefitting from nonprofit status. As regional papers have pulled back on coverage, communities such as Richmond have increasingly looked to new, web based sources of news.
(Richmondconfidential.org, which has grown since its late 2009 launch, is also a grant-funded, nonprofit education and community service venture, and is staffed by students from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism).
One of Richmond Pulse’s most important early works is an exploration of the city’s daytime curfew law meant to discourage minors from skipping school. In a video and written story, youthful reporters share their experiences with the controversial ordinance, providing a fresh perspective in contrast to mainstream news reports.
But solid reporting techniques are also employed, including an interview with Police Lt. Michael Booker on the topic of the daytime curfew.
Leaders of the Pulse are focusing on enhancing quality and training young reporters now, and expect readership to grow. “We have a sense of where we want to be, and we’re improving by the day,” Marshall said.
Marshall said he hopes to help Pulse expand to use more radio media and, eventually, have a printed publication to pair with the multimedia site. Marshall added that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and that city leaders, particularly those in the mayor’s office, have been supportive of their efforts.
“We are part of this larger energy of the new, healthy Richmond,” Marshall said.
According to its web site, New America Media is the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate representing some 3,000 news outlets. Ethnic media is the fastest growing sector of American journalism, according to NAM, which was founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996.