By Joe Lanane • LMA Contributor
The Granite State News Collaborative is leading a year-long investigation to determine whether racial disparities exist across several key sectors, including New Hampshire’s policing system.
“This is a state that’s historically not been diverse but is rapidly becoming more diverse—even more diverse than our population knows or believes,” Director Melanie Plenda said.
The statewide coalition was established in early 2018, and Plenda was hired later that year. The collaborative’s early work focused on statewide mental health issues and the opioid crisis wreaking havoc in New Hampshire.
Now the collaborative is taking a data-driven look to learn if the state’s policing system disproportionately affects New Hampshire’s residents of color. Local Media Association awarded Granite State News Collaborative a $5,000 stipend in October to review a decade’s worth of arrest data and police department demographics across the state.
“That’s when everything changed for the collaborative,” she said. “It changed the way we were doing things.”
Every partner started sharing coronavirus coverage in a system organized by Plenda. And after some of New Hampshire’s top journalism talent was unexpectedly laid off, the Granite State News Collaborative raised extra funding to hire those journalists as freelancers.
When social unrest spread across America after George Floyd’s murder, the coalition again shared content to track protests throughout New Hampshire. In total, the collaborative produced 350 original stories and shared and re-published 1,350 additional stories among partners.
“I think it took COVID and sharing content to see how working together could work,” Plenda said. “Also, this built up trust among partners that didn’t necessarily exist before. It helps we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to journalistic talent in this state.”
The protest coverage aligned with the collaborative’s yearlong goal to evaluate state racial disparities. For example, the collaborative reviews how race factors into education, health care, affordable housing initiatives, and policing. The group is working to gather up to a decade’s worth of data from each New Hampshire municipality for the following items:
- Police funding for each town/city by year
- Number of police officers for each town/city by year
- Officers and leadership demographics broke down by age, race, and gender
- Violent crime arrests for each town/city by year
The project also looks at solutions from other states to see if they might scale to New Hampshire. The money will help with the data-gathering efforts and the subsequent analysis, Plenda said.
“In New Hampshire, it’s often very difficult to get data and information here, either because it doesn’t exist or just very different in each jurisdiction,” she said.
MuckRock and various freelancers are also helping the Granite State News Collaborative to gather and organize its data. The project could be ready to reveal to the public early next year, according to Plenda.
“Do our police forces reflect communities we serve? I don’t think that’s a question that would have been asked before the collaborative took on this issue,” she said.
The data is expected to produce stories of statewide and hyperlocal significance, with news partners encouraged to customize the content for their audience. The coverage will also extend to New Hampshire Public Broadcasting stations as part of a weekly public affairs series.
“The potential for the impact this project could have is huge,” Plenda said. “If we do nothing else, we let our state know that actually, we are pretty diverse.”
This article is part of a series on how recipients of Local Media Foundation’s Fund for Local Journalism stipends are planning impactful investigative reporting projects.