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Meet Denise Cheng, new JA editor for research and outreach

About Denise

Denise Cheng joins the JA from Michigan, where she’s been practicing deep hyperlocal journalism. As the citizen journalism coordinator for the Grand Rapids Community Media Center, she also reported and edited copy for The Rapidian, a local news site. She has taught social media and digital story telling at Portland Community Media in Oregon, and served as a Peace Corps small business advisor in Lesotho. Denise graduated from Miami University with an interdisciplinary degree in Global and Cultural Journalism, Italian, and political science.

Two and a half years ago, I uprooted from Portland, Oregon, to embark on an adventure launching a hyperlocal, citizen-authored news source called The Rapidian. Beginning in college and over my career, I’ve been drawn to wise owls who steer participatory media outfits. I have come to believe that media creation has the power to fuse people and their networks to information, and to increase the likelihood they will act in their communities.

This is important. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I saw emerging communities misunderstood and misrepresented by media inside and outside the country. That intensified tension between groups and nipped compassion from outside of the country. As the daughter of immigrants, I saw the link that native language news networks can provide to those who never feel exactly at home. When communities form, the participants are no longer detached individuals swallowed up in the crowd; they can determine what is meaningful within their own communities.

I saw this at The Rapidian. In my goodbye editorial, I remember a few transformations I was privileged to witness, including “a woman who practiced in front of a mirror to find her voice in front of a camera, people who have never been invited to create media realizing that their perspectives meant something to people they had never met.” I also explained why I’m comfortable moving on. “It’s tempting to stay where you are when you’re content, but that’s the best time to push onward and open up.”

I didn’t explain where I was going, but I’ll let you in on the secret: I’m coming right here to this very URL. In mid-November, I’ll be starting as the JA’s research and outreach editor. My primary focus at the JA will combine many of my faves: building community among journalism practitioners for a stronger media ecosystem. I fully believe that by doing so, we can better serve other communities and help them emerge. We can help people connect to one another through information.

Denise Cheng and Lisa Skube at Block by Block

Denise Cheng and JA's Lisa Skube at Block by Block, September 2011. Photo by Dave Cohn

There are times when I worry. Is “community” in danger of being one of those buzz words that becomes meaningless (is it already)? Yet how many times have I proof-read a paragraph spangled with “community” and searched for a synonym? Fellowship, camaraderie, rapport… Nothing quite captures the sentiment. One phrase that has caught my fancy lately really seems to describe community to a T: Communities are “everywhere—like God, or salt.”

But communities aren’t only about banding together to create a space in the world. They’re also about enriching experiences among peers. As a journalism practitioner, I absorbed a lot over the last few years, whether by site visits, at conferences or through Internet stalking. What appeals to me most about the JA: I will be learning directly, with my peers, and connecting news outlets to one another as a full-time pursuit. By moving forward together, we’ll learn from one another and discover more effective approaches for our audiences to connect with information. It will help every one of us move closer to this call: To equip a citizenry with the information it needs to become invested in self-governing.