Stories of Atlantic City launches, pairing community members with media in a unique new collaborative

The partnership will produce a series of restorative narrative stories, an event and hopefully newfound trust between the people who live in Atlantic City and the local media.

Atlantic City is a fascinating place.

It’s a diverse coastal town with a rich cultural and economic history. Like other cities across America, there are many, many stories to be told in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, there are far more stories than there are storytellers — especially in an age of dwindling local news coverage.

In Atlantic City, we saw an opportunity to test out a new kind of collaborative journalism effort, one that focused entirely on restorative narrative storylines and one that put the community squarely in the driver’s seat of what stories got told.

And now we’re thrilled to announce the launch of Stories of Atlantic City.

Stories of Atlantic City is a collaborative restorative narratives series. It’s an initiative that grew out of Free Press’ News Voices work in Atlantic City in 2015 and culminated in a partnership in 2018 between Free Press, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, Images and Voices of Hope (ivoh), a group of engaged community members and six local media outlets.

Participants joined an Atlantic City restorative narrative workshop to discuss ideas for stories during a small-group breakout session in Oct. 2018. (Photo: Joe Amditis.)

Our current partnership began last fall when we convened a meeting of journalists and community members to discuss media coverage in Atlantic City and consider what stories would look like here if they were told through a restorative narrative lens. We brought in Ilsa Flanagan from ivoh to lead a training session on restorative narrative. Restorative narrative is best described as a “strength-based” approach to media. The term refers to journalism or storytelling that highlights the assets of a particular individual or community instead of the deficits and shortcomings.

We kept the conversation going after that meeting, and that’s how Stories of Atlantic City was born.

The basic premise is simple: A group of community members are going to find good stories, and a group of media outlets have agreed to tell those stories.

The community team, led by Alexandra Nunzi of The Leadership Studio and Evan Sanchez of This is AC, are spending nearly two months talking to people in Atlantic City and scouring the town for ideas of stories that show the city and its people through a restorative narrative lens. They’re compiling dozens of story tips now and will narrow that list down to a handful of the best ones. Mike Rispoli of Free Press and Ilsa of ivoh are providing guidance for Evan and Alexandra.

Atlantic City residents returned to the Leadership Studio in Feb. 2019 to discuss possible story ideas. (Photo by Christian Correa.)

The community team recently held an event that brought together over 50 leaders, artists, teachers, students, professionals, local business owners, and concerned residents. People from all around the city came to nominate people and stories they felt exemplified the strength and resiliency of the city, people who were doing good work but the media wasn’t seeing. The goal of the event was to move below that grass-tops level, the part of the community which often are most in touch with reporters. We wanted to really reach out to folks who we knew where doing impactful work, had stories to share, but were harder to reach.

The team and a group of community members will reconvene in April with our media partners, including The Press of Atlantic CityRoute 40, Atlantic City Times, Breaking ACStockton University and SNJ Today, to pitch the stories. At the end of that discussion the journalists will each choose a story to tell.

Our media partners, working with Ilsa as well as Stefanie Murray and Joe Amditis at the Center, will then report out those stories and co-publish or co-broadcast them all on an agreed-upon day. Following publication, we’ll host a storytellers events in Atlantic City to bring the community together and let the people featured in the pieces talk about their experiences in front of a live audience.

All of this is being made possible thanks to grants made to Stockton University and the Center for Cooperative Media by the NJ Community News and Information Fund at the Community Foundation of New Jersey, a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Center for Cooperative Media, Free Press, Stockton University, and The Leadership Studio are co-managing the project.

We’re hopeful that this can be a model for other cities. We are fully documenting the project now and, when we’re done, we plan to release a behind-the-scenes video on “how we did this.” We’ll also publish both a guide and a report that evaluates what worked and what we’d do differently next time around.

You can follow our progress in real-time at If you have questions or want to participate in this project, send an email to [email protected].

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge FoundationDemocracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund of the Community Foundation of New Jerseyand the Abrams Foundation. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit

About Free PressFree Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what’s actually happening in their communities.