Originally Posted on Second Wave Media Southwest MichiganKathy Jennings - Thursday, October 11, 2018

In many communities across the country, there are untold stories of people and organizations working to make their city a better place to live and work.

A new program offered by Issues Media group through its regional online publication Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave Media will begin to highlight those stories in Battle Creek beginning Oct. 18.

The On the Ground Program tells the story of the people, projects, and innovations that are creating “what’s next” for communities. Using “solutions-oriented” coverage and community engagement the goal is to find and tell stories that ultimately give a deeper understanding of the community, resulting in awareness and investments that can contribute to the vitality and prosperity of the city covered.

In Battle Creek, the concept is to use an “embedded journalism” model to maintain a presence in a specific neighborhood for at least 30 days before moving on to another specific neighborhood. During this time we focus weekly coverage on a neighborhood to tell the story of its businesses, individuals, and nonprofits.

The embedded journalist attends regular neighborhood events and the On the Ground team hosts dedicated conversations to engage residents as we seek out story ideas and network. The first neighborhood conversation will be Nov. 1 at 6 p.m. at Parkway Manor in Washington Heights where we will ask for potential story ideas.

Jane Simon is the local reporter focusing on Battle Creek neighborhoods and she comes to the project with many years in journalism. The Battle Creek resident describes her route to the On the Ground project saying just when she had reached a point in her career when she thought that being a newspaper reporter was the job she would retire from, fate had other plans.

“After a 20-plus year career as a reporter that began at the Battle Creek Enquirer and ended at the Kalamazoo Gazette, I started to re-invent myself and position myself to get into public relations and marketing. I was fortunate to find work in the nonprofit sector that used the reporting and writing skills I had crafted over the years and taught me skills that have brought me into a new way of doing things.

“However, the innate curiosity and determination to tell a fair and balanced story that was the foundation for my writing and reporting, never left me and I am truly excited and very privileged to have been tapped to write for you and about you — the residents of Battle Creek. In an era where ‘fake news’ is actually a thing and the term ‘news desert’ is a reality, this project that we are embarking on together has never been more critical.

“I hope that you will recognize the importance of the journey we are about to take together and will share your experiences and stories with me as we work to change the narrative in the city we call home.”

Where it all started

On the Ground coverage began May 2012 with a pilot program through the Philadelphia-based IMG publication Flying Kite. Then-publisher Michelle Freeman developed the concept of an ongoing initiative that aimed to dive deep into neighborhood transformation. In that program, a project editor from Flying Kite was embedded in a vacant storefront or building and after three months they moved on to the next neighborhood. Between May 2012 and August 2013, Flying Kite was embedded in four neighborhoods in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

IMG adopted this program model in 2013 for its Detroit-based publication Model D. Since then, IMG has worked in over 15 different neighborhoods across the country. There have been On the Ground programs in Memphis, Tampa, Grand Rapids, Dearborn, Ypsilanti, Pontiac, Cincinnati, Detroit and more.

The program is adapted for each community. We identify partners in each neighborhood who assist a dedicated journalist in connecting and orienting with residents.

In order to establish a lasting relationship with the community and the groups involved with the project, the project editor dedicates time to researching the history of the neighborhood and developing an editorial framework based on the interests of the community.

In Battle Creek, the On the Ground project also will involve training local residents as reporters. They will attend four classes and publish stories in Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave. They will be paid as journalists for attending classes and having their work published. Their relationship as writers for Second Wave is expected to continue after their training.

IMG views this engagement as an initial investment into a community. Programs are tailored to approach the needs of each neighborhood differently and treated as the first step in creating long-term media impact in the highlighted areas.

“What I love about the program is this is journalism the way it used to be done,” says Managing Editor Kathy Jennings. “A reporter digs in and really gets to know a community. And since we are an online magazine we present it in an updated way. It’s the best of both the old and the new.”