Today’s Q&A brings us out to Jersey, where we chat with our columnist Kevin Riordan. He’s tasked with covering the entire region and giving all of us a sense of the triumphs, struggles and unique stories that are emerging from the Jersey 'burbs.
Have a great Labor Day weekend! I hope you’re enjoying the last minutes of summer at the Shore or on vacation. We’ll be back in your inbox on Wednesday morning.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters, columnists or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Kevin Riordan, who gives us some insight on what it’s like to cover Camden and the 'burbs in South Jersey.
How would you describe South Jersey?
It’s an urban, old suburban, new suburban, exurban, rural, and wilderness area — not just a faceless postwar sprawl of malls and fast food strips, although there are plenty of those. SJ includes pretty much everything south of Trenton (or below I-195), but Inquirer readers are mostly in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties, and at the Shore (particularly in the summer) from LBI south to Cape May. The Pinelands (a national reserve with more than one million acres, mostly in Atlantic, Burlington, and Cumberland Counties) are unique. For those, a backpack and a canoe is useful. For the rest of SJ, you need a car.
What’s been the most interesting storyline you’ve covered, or followed, over the time you’ve covered South Jersey?
Camden is by far the most interesting SJ storyline I’ve covered. It’s the story of urban America, every issue, every struggle, every sort of person, in eight square miles. The inner ring suburbs around Camden and around Philly also generate good stories. There are lots of demographic and economic transitions going on across the entire SJ area, especially in the communities that are closer to the central Philly core. There are significant immigrant communities in Cherry Hill, Pennsauken, and Voorhees, and relatively diverse or even majority-minority cities and suburbs here and there across SJ. There’s lots of fascinating history, too.
What are the biggest misconceptions about South Jersey and how does your reporting give a better lens into the realities happening in that part of the state?
The biggest misconception about SJ is that there’s nothing interesting going on, that it’s just a faceless, suburban nowhere, or a bizarro-land, or boring. These elements do exist. But the reality of SJ is that every kind of story and every sort of issue imaginable are going on here: environmental, economic, political, social, racial … you name it, the issue is percolating.
What’s been the toughest story you’ve reported on in South Jersey?
The toughest story? Again, that would be Camden. Ask anyone who has ever covered the city for any length of time, and they’ll tell you. Camden gets into your blood.
How do you decide which stories to cover in this vast region?
I’m in my tenth year as the NJ columnist at The Inquirer, so I have a lot of latitude in choosing what to write about. Mainly, I write about things I’m interested in reading about — and can reasonably expect will interest readers as well. There’s plenty to choose from.
We hope you’re enjoying all of the Labor Day weekend festivities! Thanks @bhalda for capturing the entertainment at Penn’s Landing.
Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout out!
Have you submitted a question to Curious Philly yet? Try us. We’re listening to our readers and doing our best to find answers to the things you’re curious about.
Our readers’ latest question: Why are there yellow grids on some Philly-area utility poles?
The answer: They’re actually reflectors to help make poles visible at night so drivers do not hit them.
I’m not in favor of locking people up for ingesting illegal substances, but I support banning it and prosecuting businesses who produce and/or market it. There are lots of other potentially deadly supplements out there too, but nobody is really trying to market tansy or black cohosh on a major scale, so there’s not much to be gained by regulating them. Kratom has moved into the area of affecting society enough to justify public action. — The Salty Snowflake on Kratom is linked with numerous deaths. But it won’t be easy for Pennsylvania to ban it.