The idea was to bring a “pop-up” newsroom to a neighborhood near you.

Which basically meant a borrowed company banner, some @NotesFromHel branded chocolates and pens, and yours truly, asking people to share their stories where they live.

I got the idea from a Journalism and Women Symposium workshop, and this week I was finally able to try it out at Southwark School as kids mocked up front pages about their lives.

Isabella Cazaval’s page emerged slowly as the little girl meticulously drew a lead picture: a cabin. A woman who bore a striking resemblance to Isabella, but who Isabella insisted was absolutely not her. The woman she drew with the smart outfit and the snazzy red shoes, she clarified, owned the cabin she had etched next to her. Actually, she was the owner of lots of cabins, a cabin magnate, if you will. Hence the top spot on the front page.

She’s 7, and already she knows that front pages need to feature more women.

Hired!

Southwark School second grade after-school participate Isabella Cazaval works with her mother, Sarah Cazaval, on a newspaper front page during @NotesFromHel's Pop-Up Newsroom
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Southwark School second grade after-school participate Isabella Cazaval works with her mother, Sarah Cazaval, on a newspaper front page during @NotesFromHel's Pop-Up Newsroom

I was piggybacking on an event hosted by Sunrise of Philadelphia and Fleischer Art Memorial that encourages kids to tell their stories. As a first go, it was a great opportunity to expose the kids to local journalism while they shared a little about their lives, immigrant and refugee families, favorite trips to the Philly Zoo, dreams about being just about everything but journalists, though I have faith I planted a seed in a few of them when I told them that yes, I do get to ask (just about) anybody (just about) anything.

But it was also an opportunity to spend more time in places where we don’t always spend enough time. I was able to hear about some of the parents’ stories as well, mostly about immigrating to Philadelphia to provide something better for their children, including an education at the South Philadelphia school that buzzes with different languages and cultures. Incidentally, when I asked the school’s principal what headline he’d like to see in the paper, Andrew Lukov said: “Let Us Grow!”

As I watched Isabella working on her front page, her mother, Sarah, told me what she’d like to see more of in the news. She thinks if there were more stories about what people escape to come to the U.S., the sacrifices they make, that’d be good. Incidentally, a table away, local photographer Ada Trillo was helping to make press badges for the kids. She had just returned from documenting the migrant caravan in Mexico. Ask and you shall receive, Sarah. If I can’t get to Trillo’s story myself, I’m hoping to get it into our pages some other way.

Would I have heard about her had I not been there? Maybe. But the serendipitous meeting was one of the perks of the pop-up – to meet people where they are.

The possibilities are endless. Other news organizations have tried this for real-time election coverage, for collaboration with other news organizations, to be larger parts of the communities. It doesn’t always have to be at an event. Next, I want to drape the banner over a fence near a corner somewhere in the city and invite people to tell me their stories — right there and then. What’s the big story in their neighborhood? What are we missing? But also, I want them to know just that we’re here, I want to introduce us to the neighborhood, reintroduce us when necessary.

I want to meet the local storytellers, the people who have stepped in to fill the void by news organizations that have ignored marginalized communities at their own peril, and watched as people have found ways to tell their own stories on their own platforms. (Think Wallo267 on Instagram.)

I want the storytelling to be more immediate — we’ll put up some of these stories on Instagram, for instance, so they can see themselves right away. We do a lot of talking about collaborating with other news organizations these days, but what about collaborating with the neighborhood storytellers?

So, reach out and let me know if you have an idea for a pop-up. I’ll grab the company banner, the pens and chocolates, and do my best to get to as many as I can in the upcoming year.