Andrea Merovich, Communications Manager
Last year, Digital First Media challenged its newspapers to submit creative and community-focused ideas for their newsrooms. The Mercury in Pottstown generated a proposal for a public space where the Pottstown community could gather for meetings and events, have access to computers and peruse newspapers’ archives, among other activities. In May 2012, The Mercury staff learned that their project was one of ten community newsroom projects across the country selected for funding through Digital First Media. A month later, on June 20, The Mercury in Pottstown opened the doors to its Community Media Lab.
"The creation of the community media lab was born from a reporting project about an increased need in area food banks and grew to involve bloggers and staff in a massive food drive," says Nancy March, editor of The Mercury. "That project taught us, and inspired us, that actively working to better our community goes hand in hand with covering community." That food drive rallied the community and brought in 20,000 food items for area food pantries. It also caught the attention of Digital First Media and helped make The Mercury a top candidate with its community newsroom proposal.
Community engagement editor Diane Hoffman spends most of her days at the Community Media Lab, which is located on The Mercury's ground floor. "There is no such thing as an average day in the Media Lab," shares Hoffman. "There are days when I have babies crawling on the floor, teenagers using their laptops and all the computers used for job hunting. There are other days when someone wants to look up a story on our microfilm archive. I've even had days when someone comes in and says they've never used a computer before, but they want to get started. I've set up blogs for visitors and even gave one woman her very first email account. The lab is a bright spot in this community and I see good things happening in Pottstown because of it."
Like many communities, not everyone in the Pottstown area has access to or knows how to use a computer. The Mercury's Community Media Lab gives people a chance to learn in a no-pressure, fee-free environment. It is also the go-to place to learn more about and to start writing a blog. Aside from the media lab's daily hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Thursday, the space is available for community use and events like happy hours, networking events, webinars and conferences.
The Community Media Lab complements the journalistic work of The Mercury. As Nancy March says, "the more we interact with people, the more we gain in story ideas and insights that help us as journalists." The Lab has enabled staff to connect with the community on a more personal level because of the daily interaction with Pottstown residents.
As the Community Media Lab continues to grow, The Mercury wishes to partner with more local organizations and businesses. It hopes to use these partnerships to educate and inform the Pottstown community on the latest issues, like Pennsylvania's new Voter ID Law. A local school district also lists the Lab as a "plug-in site" for free Wi-Fi for students in its online learning programs.
The Community Media Lab has had a positive ripple effect in the Pottstown community. The Mercury is excited to see what's next for the Lab, and to discover more ways to serve the community. According to Nancy March, the Lab has helped the editorial staff of The Mercury be even better journalists: "Community journalism at its best is personal – it's reporting on the places where we live and work, and working to improve the quality of life in those places through our reporting."
To learn more about the Community Media Lab, contact Nancy March at email@example.com
or Diane Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org