As publisher of the nonprofit news outlet Follow South Jersey, Hopeloft, a program of United Advocacy Group, is leading this initiative to engage student journalists and their peers in the development and management of a Vaccine Communications Repository. In partnership with universities and community-based organizations throughout the state, the New Jersey Department of Health and its COVID Community Corps and the New Jersey Vaccination Learning Network, Hopeloft will recruit, train and deploy student journalists, students in other disciplines and local young adults as interns who will collect and organize evidence-based and culturally appropriate communications materials and information about services and resources regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. With a focus on the most vulnerable communities, Hopeloft will also use an embedded journalism model to place students at community-based providers around the state to gather information and data. The interns will be supervised by a dedicated Follow South Jersey team comprising an editor, multimedia producer and project manager. In addition, Hopeloft will convene an expert work group to be the interns’ thought partners in designing the online repository platform, developing the process for verifying information submitted, and leveraging social media and public relations strategies to raise awareness of the Vaccine Communications Repository as a tool for addressing vaccine hesitancy.
These efforts build on Bridgeton Local News, a previous phase of collaborative work that focused on strengthening local journalism to build an informed and civically engaged Bridgeton. By the end of this project, the student interns will have developed a resource to help communities work more efficiently and effectively in providing trusted information about the vaccine. Over the long term, this employment experience could lead these student journalists to pursue careers that advance health and equity by meeting critical information needs in their own communities.