By Matt DeRienzo • LMA consultant

We’re announcing the first round of recipients for the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network Grants for Coronavirus Coverage. The grants, funded by Facebook and administered in partnership with Lenfest Institute and Local Media Association, help support COVID-19 related coverage in newsrooms around the US and Canada. The grants provide funding for unexpected expenses associated with covering this crisis, such as equipment for live streaming, remote work capabilities and more.

The first 50 grants went to local news organizations in 24 states, Puerto Rico and Canada going to both nonprofit and for-profit outlets. Each grantee has been awarded $5,000. A complete list of grant recipients will be announced in early April.

Each of the winners has stepped up to cover the economic and cultural impacts of this global pandemic.  At some organizations, this means getting emergency information to audiences while their own newsrooms faced a critical threat from the sudden collapse of advertising and event revenue.

The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., which relies heavily on digital subscriptions to fund its newsroom, took down its paywall for coronavirus stories. It will use the grant to cover travel costs and remote work capabilities to extend coverage to rural, news desert portions of the state.

“The most significant hot spots in our state are in rural, hard-to-get-to communities with little to no news coverage,” Post and Courier Executive Editor Mitch Pugh (right) wrote in his application for funding.

In Seattle, one of the early epicenters for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., two news organizations, Entre Hermanos and online local news site Capitol Hill Seattle, will focus on getting information to Latinx, black and LGBTQ readers in city neighborhoods most affected by the virus.

“As we try to stay in touch with the most densely populated areas of the region most affected by COVID-19’s largest city, there is too much to cover with (our) existing freelance budget,” said Capitol Hill’s Justin Carder (right).

Detour Detroit, among other applicants, is managing a Facebook group for readers that answers questions about coronavirus, and works to dispel misinformation. They’ll also be writing about “unsung heroes” who have emerged in the outbreak, from grocery store employees coming to work without adequate safety protection, to Muslim organizations providing neighborhood grocery delivery services.

Other news organizations, including grant recipient the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, Mo., are publishing email newsletters highlighting coronavirus coverage. The newspaper will use its grant to bolster remote work technology and on contingency plans for reaching elderly readers should print distribution be disrupted.

“We are covering the hell out of coronavirus, seeking to help our community gain a sense of control through knowledge. We seek to be productive and informative, not scary,” wrote Publisher Jon Rust (left). “We are also looking at ways to connect the community positively, including hosting ‘movie nights for the community’ where everyone is encouraged to watch — and then comment about — a common movie on Netflix, Prime, Disney+, etc.”

Montana Senior News will use the money to create a database to connect senior citizens in the state with local resources for food assistance, health care, delivery programs and other services.

Nonprofit regional magazine Southerly, based in Durham, N.C., will invest in coverage of how coronavirus response is being handled in low-income Southern communities that are recovering from natural disasters and dealing with pollution.

Mission Local, a nonprofit online news organization serving the Mission District in locked-down San Francisco, will use the grant to pay for translation of its journalism into other languages, and a text messaging service aimed at the area’s immigrant community.

In the rural, heavily Latinx county served by the Casa Grande Dispatch, a small local newspaper in Arizona, it will fund a temporary increase in articles, video and podcasts about efforts to contain the growing number of confirmed cases there.

El Paso Matters, a new local online news organization launched earlier this year by former El Paso Times Editor Bob Moore, will hire freelance reporters and translators to expand coverage of coronavirus in El Paso and across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

“The El Paso region has information voids for unique vulnerable populations — low-income immigrant communities, detained migrants, for example. Their situation hasn’t received enough coverage,” Moore wrote. “Uniquely among media organizations in El Paso, we allow all other media to use the content we develop.”

Nonprofit WLRN radio in Miami, serving an audience that’s 50 percent Latinx and 15 percent black, will use the funding to purchase equipment allowing journalists to work from home and file remotely.

“A prolonged crisis will require our journalists to continue to work remotely,” wrote WLRN’s Giselle Reed (right). “We will need the appropriate broadcasting equipment and connectivity to enable our news anchors/hosts and producers to work remotely.”

Noticel, a local news site with a readership of more than 1.8 million unique monthly visitors in Puerto Rico, plans to expand its coverage beyond its base of San Juan into more remote parts of the island.

“We anticipate additional challenges because right now we are operating under a national curfew of 24 hours in Puerto Rico that limits the movement of people and access to sources or community involvement to identify clusters of possible virus spread in the community,” wrote Noticel co-founder Oscar Serrano. “The government of Puerto Rico has been slow in the information that is providing to our community and users are requesting for more in depth reporting.”

Nancy Lane

“These grants will go a long way in helping small-to-mid size publishers cover COVID-19 in communities across North America,” said Nancy Lane (right), CEO, Local Media Association. “We are inspired by their vision and look forward to following their progress. We’ll be issuing case studies along the way to share what we learn.”