Helping Each Other Walk in the Dark

There were heartbreaking stories of the end of innocence, and the harrowing lives of the poor around the world. There were funny tales about convent pranks. And there was sweet piano music asking, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” 

Standup Sisters: Border Crossings, a storytelling event held at La Roche College on March 14, featured Catholic sisters whose lives began in towns in Pennsylvania and Peru. They went on to serve the poor in the Amazon and every corner of the world over decades, and still today.

“One of the most pressing issues of our time is how we support our neighbors in need here and abroad to become the best they can be,” said Standup Sisters producer Jennifer Szweda Jordan. “The women who spoke at Standup Sisters have lived with the most vulnerable people within and outside of our borders. Their stories provide a more holistic view of the challenges and the joys of being one human family.”

Audio recordings of this event will be made available in the coming weeks. Now available is a video from the youngest member of the “Standup Sister” crew. Rhonda Miska is not yet a sister. She’s going through the steps in that process with the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, based in Wisconsin. She is what’s known as a “candidate” for religious life, and she writes for U.S. Catholic, America magazine, and is part of the network Catholic Women Preach.

In Miska’s story, she answers the question: What’s it like to walk in an unknown land, on a mountain, in the dark, wearing flip flops? The Nicaraguans who invited her on an age-old religious procession taught Miska a lot about what it means to fall, and what it means to catch one another–a metaphor for being a global community.

Our Values, Our Stories: 2016 Benefit Report

With less than a shoestring budget–something more like a thread–Unabridged Press produced an event and podcasts that brought media attention to women who’ve dedicated their lives to health care, education, and social equity–Catholic sisters. It was a great year-one accomplishment for Unabridged Press, a media outlet dedicated to creating a more just and sustainable world through sharing people’s stories.

Post-Gazette Standup Sisters

Click image to see Post-Gazette coverage of Unabridged Press’ Standup Sisters.

Once a year, Unabridged Press reports on what it has accomplished in meeting its goals of serving people, the planet, and profit. This is that report.

Unabridged Press was established as a limited liability company in 2015, after Jennifer Szweda Jordan stepped away from a long tenure reporting and editing environmental news at The Allegheny Front. Fueled by the ethos and skills honed from work at The Allegheny Front, Associated Press, and family-owned newspapers, Jordan sought to create a storytelling-focused media company to celebrate the stories and histories of people who don’t often make the cover of magazines–the elderly, the disabled, churchwomen, and so on. Another coverage goal is to explore topics that are typically not covered–like religion. Unabridged Press can be seen as a social justice press with high professional journalistic standards, and a frequently playful approach.

With the support of financial gifts from family and friends, Jordan contracted with Pittsburgh attorney Eric Davis in early 2015. He’s the local legal leader in the formation of social enterprises. These types of enterprises are committed to measuring success in ways other than financial profit.  Davis included language and structure to help Unabridged Press to stay true to its purpose.  In the future, Unabridged Press hopes to become officially B-Corp Certified once its size and income grows.  

WorkHardPGH features art by former Steeler Baron Batch.

WorkHardPGH features art by former Steeler Baron Batch.

WorkHardPGH, the site Unabridged Press has resided in since mid-2015 has a mission that is largely consistent with Unabridged Press. WorkHardPGH is made up mainly of media professionals (film, audio, etc). And it has a greater mission of helping rebuild Main Street economies in a way that is inclusive–of minorities, of small business owners, of an ex-con janitor seeking a second chance. Because WorkHardPGH membership includes equipment rental, Unabridged Press is able to share equipment instead of purchasing it–naturally providing an environmental benefit. Unabridged Press has contracted with other new small business owners at WorkHardPGH for professional media services. In this way and through desk space rental, Unabridged Press has contributed financially to the communal economy at WorkHardPGH, and to Allentown (a neighborhood of Pittsburgh).

In keeping with its social and environmental objectives, Unabridged Press has operated out of two coworking startup incubators (StartUptown and WorkHardPGH), both located in

Work Hard Women

PA First Lady Frances Wolf chatted with business owners Alayna Frankenberry (c) and Jennifer Szweda Jordan (R) when she and Gov. Wolf visited WorkHardPGH. Photo: Ryan Haggerty Media.

distressed urban locations. These sites were selected expressly because their missions align in social and environmental benefits. At both sites, all amenities are easily accessible by foot, bicycle or public transit–and Unabridged Press’ founder, and contractors use these methods to maintain a connection with the community, save money and live lightly on the land. In keeping with the commitment to the local economy, Unabridged Press contracts with local startup Fort Pitt Web Shop, based at StartUptown, for web services. Unabridged Press has worked with the mission-aligned peer mentoring group Mashup U., which assists local business owners–and students–navigating the innovation economy.

City Paper Last Word feature

Unabridged Press’ efforts to collect stories was turned into this article in the City Paper.

The media topics Unabridged Press focused on in its first year included seniors in Pittsburgh’s South Side. As the South Side Market House building celebrated its centennial last year, Unabridged Press was the first media outlet to take note, and the only outlet to report in-depth on the seniors, bringing together three media professionals–Jordan, Heather McClain, and Reid Carter–for a day to capture the stories of those who grew up using the community center. Each senior interviewed received a CD of their professional interview to share with their loved ones–a gift like that given to participants of the national StoryCorps oral history project. Articles about this event, written by Jordan from material she gathered with colleagues, were published in the City Paper, and the South Pittsburgh Reporter.

Another project completed by Unabridged Press was Standup Sisters–a free community event and podcasts that highlighted the work of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill–who have been at the forefront of healthcare, education, and caring for the poor in our region since 1870. As in most male-dominated churches, women do not typically take center stage–the inaugural Standup Sisters event and podcast series moved the dial just a bit. This content was partly funded by, and distributed in partnership with, the organization National Catholic Sisters Week. The effort won excellent coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Standup Sisters JPG

While building Unabridged Press, Jordan continued to publish in other press outlets to support herself as well as to carry out the mission of covering regional people who are not in the media spotlight. This included profiles of three female leaders of the late-20th century–now seniors, they were South Pittsburgh’s old guard–shepherding the communities through significant changes and devoting countless hours to the community. One took ownership of the South Pittsburgh Reporter in her 40s–an inspiration to Unabridged Press as a woman-owned business.

Roberta Smith

Longtime South Pittsburgh Reporter publisher and editor Roberta Smith. Click image to read about her.

Benefit reports also highlight the challenges in meeting goals. For Jordan’s work founding and producing content for Unabridged Press, she has received no financial compensation, which is not sustainable, although often seen in the first three years of startups. Jordan is grateful to work weekends offering support to developmentally disabled adults with Emmaus Community of Pittsburgh, social work that fuels the development of Unabridged Press–and keeps Jordan focused on the lives and stories of unsung people. In 2016, Unabridged Press will launch a fundraising campaign to continue the Standup Sisters project and to also finance similar projects. Unabridged Press also is working to highlight stories of small-scale farmers.

Unabridged Press is grateful to the family and friends who covered many expenses so that a company can be created. And volunteers who helped at every step. We’re pleased with 2015’s achievements and we look forward to telling more underreported stories in the coming year, always with an eye to benefitting the environment and people.
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This report was overseen by Dominic Necciai, benefit director for Unabridged Press. He’s an investments advisor and heads WYEP’s Community Advisory Board. And he’s studying media marketing in Point Park University’s masters program.

Parklet over Pittsburgh

Getting back to nature within the city–visiting this parklet just down the street from WorkHardPGH suggests a big picture view of the stories in our future.

 

Convenience Store Confessions: Spirited Conversations

Moral or spiritual support can come from surprising places. Producer Jennifer Szweda Jordan gets insights and encouragement at her neighborhood convenience store–it’s a kind of extended church community for her. So she talked with two of the workers about their faith backgrounds, what they struggle with, and like, about their belief systems, and how people of different backgrounds can get along. This is part of the Spirited Conversations project.

 

What’s Up in May

Unabridged Press is now focused primarily on audio podcast content about two subjects. The first features real conversations about faith. Note: we are in the market for a name for this, since the working title of Spirited Project already is being used. The second content goal is to focus on people and issues in Pittsburgh’s urban southern neighborhoods, aka Hilltop–Carrick, Allentown, Knoxville, and the like. The content will incorporate public events and social media. We’re seeking financial investment and partners on these projects. Content from the faith conversations series appears below. More will be posted on Soundcloud, Facebook, and Twitter, and here. For more info, e-mail jennifer@unabridgedpress.com or call 412-200-2017. Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for listening

A woman said this to me yesterday: “Thanks for listening.” And it reminded me that this is the fundamental gift that we can all give each other. It costs very little to spend a few moments listening to another person. (The pictures here illustrate people listening: my friends Kyle and Estelle get a lot done while they listen to podcasts, too…Weenta, on the other hand, likes to get quiet and close her eyes while she listens seated on her bed.)

Weenta

Estelle

Kyle

When I worked at The Associated Press’ Albany bureau, we had assigned “writing days,” a treasured uninterrupted eight hours for doing what we all loved to do. Some people also took “reading days” when they could actually learn from other writers through this venue of writing. You couldn’t let the boss know you were spending a day reading. It wasn’t considered to be as valuable as getting out in the field and actually interviewing people face-to-face. But I think we all need to TAKE time to listen, to read, in different media, face-to-face, online, and in books. Years later, when the creator of the popular radio program Marketplace, Jim Russell, consulted with the team I was on at The Allegheny Front, he pointed out the value of reading time.

I’m a horribly slow reader. And while I haven’t completely given up on books, for myself, I’m instituting listening days, those when I tune in to all the podcasts friends and others are recommending. And the beauty of listening to pre-recorded audio is that I can also get my dishes done, run, and cook while listening.

So here’s what I’m listening to today: Happier with Gretchen Rubin: The Power Hour; Invisibilia: Fearless; my favorite British Jesuit prayer podcast. So… what are you listening to? Thanks for listening, er, reading.

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Nothing like a deadline…

Eschewing the wisdom of previous generations to have a job before you quit one, or at least have six months savings in the bank, I’m taking a professional leap to reboot Unabridged Press. This will host media content and serve as a consultancy platform for those who want my services elsewhere. My tenure hosting and managing an award-winning radio show ends in the next month. So I’ll be, technically, without a job. I’m not entirely soaring without a net, mind you. I have the great support of family and friends, some who have even said I could nanny their kids if it comes to that. But here’s what I think’s going to happen instead. Podcasts and other digital media are about to grow in a way we haven’t seen before. They’ll be more professional and accessible. The time for me to use the skills I’ve developed to be part of this market is now. I’m getting in the game. -Jennifer

 

How this began

In mid-2012, I decided I wanted to try something new. For 18 years, I’ve worked in journalism–for The Associated Press, for small- and medium-sized daily newspapers. For the last 11, I’ve reported and edited stories about the regional environment working with The Allegheny Front. IMG_5678But I wanted to create something different–perhaps quirky but meaningful and revealing what motivates people we don’t always hear enough from. Working with other reporters for many months, a vision developed. We would go to the places and talk to the people that/who are relatively unknown and reveal stories in an artful way, using the latest technology and creative approaches. We would cover issues that others don’t have time for. We know there’s a rich media landscape here, and we don’t expect to compete with it so much as to complement it. For a while I’ve been calling this endeavor a This American Life treatment of local issues, in homage to the public radio show that’s gained a following for weekly thematic storytelling. I haven’t yet figured out how to make money on this dream, though I think I’m getting better at grant-writing and accepting rejection. Next post: the first topic and people this project will cover.

What’s in a (Our) Name?

Digital Bridge photo

Does a name mean everything–encapsulate everything a business or organization is or wants to be?  Or is it not that important in the grand scheme of things?

When we began this new venture, we got a lot of advice from family, friends, books and other media about how we should approach the naming ritual.  There were huge sheets of white paper scribbled on furiously with colored markers.  Philosophical discussions ensued.  Someone suggested we should rip it off like a Band-Aid–just pick one and do it.  We could always change it later.  Still, we quibbled.

Amongst ourselves and within each of us, we were struggling to distill everything we wanted this new entity to be into one or two words.  For a group of creative types and writers, it was humbling.  But the project itself is humbling.  Creating a space for long-form storytelling which includes diverse voices from our city and communities–it seems like our content should speak for itself.

We started with “The Bridge,” because we want to be that bridge between neighborhoods, between quick and dirty journalism and something more substantial.  Then we became “Digital Bridge’” because, well, we’re online.  And we use technology to make these connections happen.  We even had it printed on the front door at our offices at StartUptown on Fifth Avenue. Turns out someone else thought it was a great name, too–they trademarked it.  So now we’re Unabridged Press.  Creating multimedia narratives previously unsung, untold, and underrepresented. It stuck, and we hope to grow into it.

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