‘On The Ground’ Lands Locally

Journalism is about storytelling—and great journalism can help change the story.

A partnership involving Issue Media Group and United Way BCKR embeds reporters in a largely low-income Kalamazoo neighborhood to find the stories and the people behind them—people who face challenges that United Way strives to address.

“This is journalism the way it used to be done,” says Kathy Jennings, Managing Editor of Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave. “A reporter digs in and really gets to know a community. And since we are an online magazine, we present it in an updated way. It’s the best of both the old and the new.”

Jennings leads the three-month project, called On The Ground, which kicked off this month in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood, working with Project Editor Theresa Coty O’Neil, Engagement Manager Vicky Kettner, and photographer Fran Dwight. In addition, local residents will be trained as reporters. All are embedded in the neighborhood. Articles will appear weekly, and a finale event will take place in Edison at the end of the project.

The value to United Way is the “deeper dive” On The Ground coverage provides, according to Matt Lynn, Vice President for Community Impact.

“We get lots of data on impact and outcomes from our partners, and we also need the personal stories to truly understand the needs we address and the impact we’re having,” Lynn explained. “On The Ground will provide important context by unveiling the stories of people whose lives we hope to change and organizations who share in the work.”

Issue Media Group launched On The Ground in 2013 and has worked in more than 15 neighborhoods across the country.

In addition to United Way, On The Ground sponsors include the City of Kalamazoo, LISC, the Fetzer Foundation, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Michigan Works!, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.