TWO YEARS AGO, I SAT in a restaurant booth, getting an earful from a local chef. He’d read a feature story I wrote for Atlanta magazine on the rising Black restaurant scene in Westview and the West End. He hated it. He was furious. He claimed my article missed “the real story,” and that Atlanta media only focuses on newcomers to historically Black neighborhoods—not the actual issues most important to longtime residents of those communities.

I got defensive. I rambled on about the tight deadline, a narrow assignment, and the fact that the chef wasn’t even from the West End.

But I knew, in a sense, he was right.

I’ve called more than a few newsrooms home, from Creative Loafing to CNN, and I know that local journalism is broken. It was never perfect. More than ever, news organizations prioritize clickbait, viral videos, and memes. I’ve used my words, my voice, for a single goal: tell the urgent stories that center on the people who know those issues best.

It’s been easier said than done—until now.

Say hello to Canopy Atlanta, a digital publication with a bold mission to bring community-led journalism to the heart of storytelling. Our inaugural issue focuses on the West End, a neighborhood that predates the Civil War and was one of the first streetcar suburbs of Atlanta and is currently experiencing rapid change in the form of redevelopment and gentrification.

Gavin Godfrey, our West End Issue editor

Gavin Godfrey, our West End Issue editor

Despite its storied past and promising future, longtime residents told us the majority of news coverage was “negative and inconsistent,” focused mostly on crime.

They wanted more stories about the neighborhood’s progress, its history of urban farming, inequality in schools, and the success of minority-owned businesses. They wanted the rest of us to see their West End. 

So, Canopy worked with community members to choose these stories. More than 50 people shared their thoughts through our listening form, phone interviews, and in-person conversations. A community advisory board further refined their neighbors’ feedback and asked our contributors to answer key questions about the community’s top news priorities.

Canopy paid six southwest Atlanta residents with ties to West End to learn the art of community journalism. Our fellows researched, wrote, and photographed multiple stories in this issue in collaboration with other emerging and established journalists.

The end result? Six exceptional stories—from a deep-dive look at what the Mall West End’s redevelopment means for the neighborhood to how the community polices youths on corners selling water—that will resonate beyond West End.

Our West End community advisory board on a Zoom call with Canopy staff in July

Those stories continue through events, including a conversation around the legacy of Black businesses along Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and an upcoming panel discussion on community policing and “water boys.” For folks who can’t access our stories online, we’ve sponsored an upcoming special edition of the Our West End Newsletter (OWEN), which will feature some of our stories. That’s right. Print ain’t dead!

The work of Canopy’s Fellows and contributors is proof that when you empower communities to choose and tell their own stories, it yields more compelling and accurate journalism.

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