Credible Messenger Reporting Project update: June 2020

Sahir Copper and Maxayn Gooded share a moment while filming their report. You can watch the video now at the bottom of this post: Emotional scars that gun violence leaves behind

The Credible Messenger Reporting Project has organized eight teams, most of which are up and running, including several that are close to completing work that will debut soon. We can hardly wait to introduce everyone.

The project was intended to support news reporting produced by people who have been impacted by gun violence in Philadelphia, to address root causes and to share lived experiences and possible solutions from the community perspective. Each community reporter – or Credible Messenger – was paired with a journalist who brought more extensive professional experience, often from the city’s most prominent traditional and community news organizations.

We found that some projects required an additional teammate, such as a video producer, but all of the reporting and recording has been conducted by people from the same communities they were covering.

We are deeply grateful to every participant, each of whom had to simultaneously navigate the disruptive complications of a global pandemic and social unrest while organizing their projects and producing their reports.

Sheila Hodges, who is spending this summer working as communications manager for the Center for Gun Violence Reporting, has been interviewing participants and prepared this status report, revealing more beneficial outcomes than the reporting content alone.

Credible Messenger Reporting Project outcomes at a glance 

Reporting the true impact of gun violence

Showing the emotional impact of gun violence was the goal of credible messenger Maxayn Gooden’s team. After losing her own 18-year-old son Jahsun, Gooden had wished reporters expressed more emotion and that experience inspired her to show the emotional side of gun violence in her project.

“I really wanted to get the emotion behind it and for people to understand that after the cameras are gone and people move on with their lives, there are still people that have these emotions inside that they will have for the rest of their lives,” said Gooden. 

Participants on reporting teams also said that the project enabled them to spotlight people with a diverse range of perspectives to share their stories. They interviewed mothers, sons, friends and people arrested on gun charges, as well as other survivors.

Building new relationships

Freelance professional journalist Erin Flynn Jay found herself admiring her Credible Messenger reporting partner and well-know community leader Kimberly Kamara and felt inspired by her drive to make a difference.

Professional journalist and Revive Radio host Tamara Russell, best known as P.O.C., was energized by the passion of Community College of Philadelphia students partnering on her project and said that she feels inspired to deepen relationships so that they will know they can depend on her in the future as well.

From the perspective of a community reporting participant, Gooden stated that she has enjoyed working with former Philadelphia Inquirer and reporter Chris Hepp and appreciated his support and expertise.

Sharing solutions

Credible Messenger community reporter Khali Younger is working with professional partner Solomon Jones, an award-winning columnist and radio host on WURD radio and Classix 107.9FM, producing audio interviews with young men sharing their perspectives on effective solutions to gun violence.

“I hope that people will gain a better understanding of what’s happening, so that we can implement the solutions that come from the street level; that come from the people who were impacted,” said Jones, adding that young men he has interviewed have been telling him they think an ineffective school system, a sense of hopelessness and other environmental factors can fuel gun violence.

Taj Devor-Bey served both as the video producer and an interview subject in Gooden’s project and told the story of when his father was shot in the chest during a robbery in their home. He feels that YouTube and other social media platforms can be helpful when it comes to gun violence prevention.

Lessons learned

Starting without professional reporting experience, Maxayn Gooden said her own firsthand experience helped her conduct the interviews in her project.

“I did it effortlessly,” said Gooden, explaining that her personal experience informed what questions to ask, who to interview and how to best frame the story.

Jones says he has also been learning that communities can tell their own stories, explaining that: “I notice that many journalists think that they’re the only ones who have the skill to tell the story, and I think that that is misguided.”

Making progress

Gooden and Hepp are planning an event in July to screen and discuss their video. Gooden hopes viewers will see the long-lasting effects of gun violence, explaining that: “People are still broken and people have to live with that person not being there for the rest of their life.”

Tamara Russell says she hopes that independent journalists will find more respect for their frontline reporting on local communities and that young people will relate to the clips of other youth.