Things happen when we hear stories, watch videos, get news reports on a community and the people in that community. They come to represent a truth about that community, even when they represent only a small portion of the whole of who the people in the community really are and what that community is about. Too often today we move towards the sensational, the outrageous, the alarming. And many times certain communities are reported on over and over not because they are any more sensational, but because we’ve come to believe that they are. This goes for both those telling stories from outside the community and even those telling stories from inside the community.
It doesn’t need to be this way. The tools are increasingly available to allow everyone to engage with information in ways that can bring about a more complete representation of communities and the people within. In so doing, the true assets of the community along with the key challenges can come to light, thereby helping to foster a stronger public space promoting overall healthier societies. But this effort is best made in communities of practice, not as individuals. Think of the best sources for news and entertainment and you will find teams of people working together to create content. In these pages we are capturing some of our lessons learned from initial collaborations between community members working at collaborative spaces in north Champaign and East St. Louis and University of Illinois students, faculty and staff to adapt community media and citizen journalism programming for the programs occurring at each site.