Smoke Signal speaks at Bergen LEADS conference

Smoke Signal editors in chief Rachel Cohen and Katie Mullaney and adviser Bill Rawson spoke on an expert panel about the future of journalism at Fairleigh Dickinson University on Tuesday, Jan. 7.

The panel also featured Frank Scandale, the Director of Investigations and Sports at Gannett, Rebecca Greene, editor in chief of TAPinto for Fair Lawn and Glen Rock, and Michael Shapiro, CEO and Publisher of TAPinto. According to its website, TAPinto is a network of more than 80 franchised online local news sites in New Jersey, New York, and Florida.

Bergen LEADS, a 10-month program for Bergen County residents and employees which aims to educate members on county issues, ran the event. Members of the program asked questions to further understand news and journalism for their annual research presentation.

“This year, the project is really looking at news and how people get and look for their news,” said Debbie Emery, Head of the

Strengthening Community Department at Bergen Volunteers and Program Director of Community Volunteer Services. “We’re really looking to find where are people finding what they consider good, accurate news.” 

Greene and Scandale, the former editor of The Bergen Record and Assistant Managing Editor of the Denver Post, spoke about the current state of journalism and how it has changed. Both journalists explained how people have stopped reading print issues.

“Local newspapers have either gone out of business or regionalized their coverage,” Shapiro said over a Skype call during the event. “There’s less local coverage, and at this point in the country, there are over 10,000 towns that have no local newspaper or no local news site.”

Journalism has faced new obstacles in recent years, and in 2019 alone, 38 newsrooms closed and the number of reporters decreased by 28,000 across the country, according to Scandale. 

“There are so many different resources nowadays and I think really what the concern comes down to is all creative content consumers we create content and also read it,” said Shannon Currie, President of the Urban League for Bergen County Young Professionals. 

Greene shared her personal experiences as a journalist, and what she has learned while on the job. 

“We need to be unbiased and we need to cover things that we don’t want to cover, we have to cover things that we don’t agree with,” Greene said. “We have to look people in the eye and listen to them. That’s what a really good reporter does: they listen, they empathize, and they take notes.”

The information from the event will be used by Bergen LEADS members in their presentations. Once the program is over, they present to Bergen County residents in the hope of educating them about journalism. 

“Our project is focusing on local news and how it’s being reported, who’s reporting it, and what kind of information local municipalities want,” said Violet Reed, Bergen LEADS member and Executive Director of Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization

Bergen LEADS members meet every month to discuss different topics of interest to benefit the county , and not only learn from the guest speakers, but from other members as well.  

“I learned so much just from listening to everybody else,” said Cartney Ezyk, Bergen LEADS member and Paramus nurse. “I know my story, but there’s 30 other stories in this room that really affect all of us

After Conference Q&A

Debbie Emery, the Head of the Strengthening Community Department at Bergen Volunteers and Program Director of Community Volunteer Services, answers questions on the purpose of the Bergen LEADS conference. 

Julia Chiola

 Lynne Algrant, Chief Executive Officer of Bergen Volunteers and Leadership Seminar Director of Bergen LEADS, talks about the Bergen LEADS program. 

Julia Chiola

Bergen LEADS members Violet Reed and Cartney Ezyk speak about their experiences in the program. 

Julia Chiola