Event program (click to enlarge)

On Friday, April 19, the TAUNY Center in Canton, NY hosted a “Citizen Journalism Showcase” organized by the St. Lawrence Citizen Journalism Incubator (SLCJI), a collaboration of four North Country organizations: Weave News, North Country Public Radio, The Hill News, and Nature Up North. The event showcased the projects of eight citizen journalists who participated in the first year of the SLCJI. (See the full program at left.)

All of the projects focus on underreported issues affecting various people and areas of the North Country. Topics included migrant workers, corrections officers, the protection of the Grasse River, budget cuts in public schools, and more. Six participants presented their work in person: Gwendolyn Deuel, Ian Erlichman, Claudia Hoffman, Connie Jenkins, Rivka Rocchio, and Tom Van de Water. Two additional participants, Alessandra Mitrano and Emma Stechschulte, were unable to attend, but their work was briefly discussed.

Several dozen community members attended the celebration. (Photo by Katie Caffrey)

Below are profiles of three of the six presenters.

Ian Erlichman

Ian Erlichman at the SLCJI celebration. (Photo by Jonathan Seymour)

Ian is currently a junior at St. Lawrence University and a contributor to the on-campus newspaper The Hill News. Interested in creative writing, Ian decided to pursue a project focused on a demographic seldom spoken about: migrant workers in the North Country. Migrant workers are an “invisible workforce” not only in this region, but throughout the United States. In his presentation, Ian explained that half of all dairy workers in the United States are migrant workers. These workers perform strenuous and sometimes dangerous work with very little pay in return. To shed some light on this issue on a local scale, Ian decided to write a creative piece about Carlos, a migrant dairy farmer in the North Country who has suffered serious health effects of working in dangerous conditions.

Connie Jenkins

Connie Jenkins at the SLCJI celebration. (Photo by Katie Caffrey)

Connie was a reporter for 32 years. She covered a wide range of often tough and unsettling issues, but eventually transitioned to working at a church and food pantry. She wants to continue telling people’s stories and writing news about popular topics. She now focuses more on personal stories in order for people to learn from different perspectives. Connie’s story for her SLCJI project focuses on the experiences of two people who have experienced both substance addiction and recovery. She seeks to emphasize how we often ignore certain members of our community, making them “invisible”. Through her project, Connie wanted to remind all of us that sometimes the ordinary people we see on the street are experiencing much more pain and hardship than we could ever know.

Tom Van de Water

Tom Van de Water at the SLCJI celebration. (Photo by Katie Caffrey)

Tom has taught at Hugh C. Williams Senior High School in Canton for thirty years. He loves Canton and the nature around it. He wants to help students understand their lives and local history, and he has found that teaching about the Grasse River is a great way to do that. “It’s part of the hidden history of this area,” he observed, “both the stories the river has to tell but also the stories that people along the river have to tell.” The Grasse River provides a unique educational experience for Tom’s students. Because the river is so close to them, they can participate in hands-on learning experiences and become better educated on the science of the river. The Grasse River is also important because it is what he calls “a microcosm of rivers around the world”. The Grasse River is, at places, one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and also one of the cleanest. Through Tom’s lessons about the Grasse River, his students become engaged in their education and more aware of the impact that they have on the environment. Some of them came to the event at TAUNY to support their teacher and learn about citizen journalism in the North Country.

Next steps for the SLCJI

Members of the SLCJI’s first cohort are currently finalizing their projects and will be working with their SLCJI mentors to seek publication opportunities. Weave News editorial director John Collins, one of the organizers of the SLCJI, says that he and others will be seeking funds to help continue the project so that others in the North Country can participate. “There are underreported stories in every community, and the North Country is no exception,” noted Collins. “Citizen journalists have their ear to the ground and can play a key role in investigating and bringing these stories to a public audience.”

More images from the celebration

This article was produced by Skylar Bergeron, Katie Caffrey, Ade Karera, Frank Faiola, Iman Maani, Lily Philip, Ayla Schnier, Jon Seymour, Molly Thompson, and Bruce Wang, students in John Collins’ First Year Seminar (FYS) on independent journalism and grassroots media organizations. This seminar is part of the First Year Program at St. Lawrence University.

Front row (L-R): Frank Faiola, Katie Caffrey, Skylar Bergeron, Lily Philip, Iman Maani, Molly Thompson. Back row (L-R): Jonathan Seymour, Bruce Wang, Ade Karera. (Photo by John Collins)

Front row (L-R): Frank Faiola, Katie Caffrey, Skylar Bergeron, Lily Philip, Iman Maani, Molly Thompson. Back row (L-R): Jonathan Seymour, Bruce Wang, Ade Karera. (Photo by John Collins)