• Energy and Environment, Information and Communications

  • Delaware | New Jersey | Pennsylvania | United States | Global Programs

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Executive Summary

The problem CivicStory is committed to solving is our apparent inability to respond intelligently to the growing threats of environmental degradation. We lack space in public discourse for thoughtful deliberation, complex analysis, weighing of various options, mobilizing resources, and effective self governance (D. Mathews, The Ecology of Democracy.) The solution we're proposing is to provide a massive infusion of non partisan, no blame, actionable, and authoritative news content that equips citizens with the understanding and know how to live sustainably. A civics based news content hub will be piloted in New Jersey by employing writers, reporters, video producers, and podcasters of diverse ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, who themselves model healthy sustainable practices. The concept of a citizen centered news hub will be adapted in other states through proposals designed to leverage different regions' resources and needs. The goal will be meaningful, measurable behavior change by ordinary citizens that shifts us toward resolving our ecological crisis.

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The Problem

The specific problem that CivicStory is committed to solving is a lack of news and information in daily discourse that is oriented toward transitioning to living sustainably. Our collective inertia in the face of an intensifying ecological crisis is creating a sense of powerlessness and frustration. Educators issue warnings of environmental deterioration, but observe public apathy; citizens engaged in ecological stewardship experience a sense of futility; younger generations see an uncertain or frightening future. Melissa Lane terms negligibility the sense that one person's actions in caring for the Earth will be inconsequential. Our society does have adequate resources to change the conversation and provide a different kind of information that helps citizens address this vast problem collaboratively. Instant communications; a sophisticated press corps and news media with diverse audiences have the potential to offer lines of approach to sustainable living. However, these social assets are ineffective when commercialized 24/7 news becomes incoherent and distracting. The chatter inhibits deliberation, consensus building, and trust. Fostering citizens' long term thinking, empathy, and deep understanding of the cumulative impact of our choices and actions seems ever more elusive and unattainable. A microcosm of the 'news problem' can be seen in the decision of the PBS NewsHour - one of the most respected news broadcasts - not to broadcast content produced by Climate Central - one of the most respected and authoritative sources of scientific research and data - due to a purported point of view.

Proposed Solution

What is needed is a space for non partisan, no blame daily news and information that invites thoughtful deliberation, discovery and new thinking, and provides relief from political wrangling. An infusion of sustainability reporting will be of immediate benefit both to the 'news industry' and the public:Citizens will gain knowledge of conservation strategies they can adopt in their homes and daily lives. News organizations will have access to reputable, high quality content that is evergreen, so as to be usable over time and as needed. News editors and reporters will increase their own understanding of a complex subject requiring expertise that may not be available in their newsroom. Nonprofits and educational institutions with noteworthy programs and projects will receive greater visibility. News producers gain confidence that the public cares about the environmental crisis and what can be done about it. Longer term benefits of greater public engagement in sustainability are many: a greater civic capacity for confronting other complex societal issues; better mediation and information flow across disciplines and sectors of society; an increased ability for businesses and markets to anticipate changes in demand and needs. The solution of creating a news hub of high quality stories, reporting, and information related to sustainable living in all its aspects will engage both ordinary citizens and news professionals, elevate the tone of discourse, and empower citizens to take constructive action. Our goal is to incentivize meaningful change in behavior that shifts society toward a sustainable path.

Evidence of Effectiveness

The proposition that a profusion of sustainability reporting will impact citizen behavior is based on the following observations and assumptions. 1. An energetic 'future of news' dialogue is ongoing in America. Retool News's engagement with organizations such as the Nieman Lab at Harvard, Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), Online News Association (ONA), and The Poynter Institute will enable the project to be noticed and discussed. 2. Video is in high demand by print and online news entities. A robust supply of fast paced, well produced videos will receive attention from newsrooms, changing mind sets and giving sustainability a higher profile. 3. Broadcast and print news move in parallel; an increase in TV coverage spawns newspaper articles, which in turn generate TV segments. Retool News's sustained attention to ecological issues will foster awareness and interest of news editors and the public. CivicStory's past record confirms these premises. My9 TV (Fox Affiliate, Secaucus) aired six NJ Arts News segments and created a new web vertical in 2009; from 2011 to 2014, NJTV News aired 18 NJ Arts News segments on the nightly news. WBGO in Newark with a large global following aired segments as audio in 2012. WHYY Philadelphia's public radio and TV station published 10 NJ Arts News segments on the NewsWorks news site in 2013 and 2014. In each of these cases, established news entities chose to disseminate stories produced by a small nonprofit start up; their decisions were linked to the quality of the content offered.

Previous Performance

"CivicStory's 80 videos produced in the past seven years show how to address a critical gap in daily news: non partisan, no blame narratives that view citizens as creative change makers, rather than consumers, and increase a sense of possibility. The videos avoid jargon, reflect diverse citizens transforming their communities, and engage both news professionals and general audiences. By combining our expertise in science and arts with nonprofit management, finance, communications, social media, and editorial expertise, the 9 person Retool News team is uniquely positioned to create a "sustainability news hub" and robust source of content that has a positive impact on news and public discourse, and motivates citizens to adopt sustainable practices. These following 12 video samples illustrate a range of topics and formats that will be applied to sustainability reporting on a large scale. NJIT Professors SeekSmarter Buildings; Develop Flexible Facades and Batteries (2:54) NJ Meadowlands Mayors Link Restored Wetlands to Flood Mitigation (3:09) Duke Farms: Educators, Civic Leaders Change Conversation on Sustainability (2:58) Seton Hall Campus Garden Links Sustainability, Ethics (2:40)

The Team

Team Purpose

Retool News is a project of CivicStory, a nonprofit news site and producer of short videos highlighting sustainability, creative culture, and civic change in New Jersey and beyond. (CivicStory is the DBA of NJ Arts News, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) entity incorporated in 2014.) The purpose of Retool News is to address critical gaps in our daily news and information system - a goal that aligns directly with CivicStory's work, and a primary reason for its founding. CivicStory's stated mission is to broaden the news through videos and dialogue about civic growth and constructive change. Many of our 80 video segments, blogposts, and public forums produced to date have addressed topics of conservation and environmental stewardship, civic engagement and transformation, and the purpose and role of news in our democratic society. The specific aim of Retool News is to produce, curate, and disseminate content that effects measurable change.

Team Structure

The Retool News project is managed and directed by a 9 member professional team focusing on administration, program and dissemination, and research. The team comprises the Executive Director (responsible for the overall strategic and financial management of CivicStory and its programs); Comptroller (responsible for finance and accounting); Communications Director (responsible for public and media relations); Creative Director (responsible for the quality and content of CivicStory's programs and projects); Managing Editor (responsible for the hiring, training, and supervision of CivicStory and Retool News journalists and editors); and Science Editor/Advisor (providing teaching, training and advice to team members and editors.) The Social Media director and Web content and interface manager are together responsible for optimizing the reach of content through the Internet and social; the Research Director hires and supervises a team of researchers who will track and document the project and its impact. The Executive Director is hired by and reports to the CivicStory board of directors, and is responsible for the hiring and supervision of all administration and program personnel. The CivicStory board will be expanded to 14 to 16 members, so as to include expertise in multi platform broadcasting and digital journalism, education, finance, IT, humanities, accounting, and civic learning.