By Emilie Lutostanski, Lindsey Leisher Estes and Camryn Allen • Local Media Association
As part of the COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program, the Facebook Journalism Project awarded $10.3 million to 144 local U.S. newsrooms.
Among other significant impacts, the payments have enabled publishers to create journalism jobs, expand local reporting, heighten audience outreach and engagement, invest in technology and marketing, and build out business relationships, events, and services.
As previously reported, 82 percent of newsrooms used the grants to expand local reporting in some way, 29 percent of newsrooms used the grants for audience outreach and engagement, and nearly 23 percent of newsrooms said the funding outright saved their newsrooms from extinction.
Here is a sampling of how two dozen newsrooms are using the funding from Facebook to reach underserved audiences, grow their businesses, bolster sustainability, and more, based on results provided by the publishers.
St. Louis American maintained all of its journalists during the onslaught of the COVID-19 outbreak. As a news outlet targeted to the African-American community, one of the paper’s initial reports was that the first 12 COVID-related deaths in St. Louis were all African-American. The grant also expanded distribution, adding 5,000 free weekly papers to people in underserved St. Louis ZIP Codes. Increased online local coverage of how African Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus also helped grow the St. Louis American’s web audience by 167 percent.
Michigan-based Native News Online hired an award-winning Indigenous journalist as full-time managing editor and contracted with several freelance journalists throughout the country to reach and cover more tribal citizens as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including many smaller tribes that are often overlooked. This hire has freed other team members to focus on building the revenue base through advertising, sponsored content, donations, and more robust sponsorship programs.
The funding re-established previously reduced work hours at Eugene Weekly. With additional staff time, reporters have covered Black Lives Matter rallies and ongoing local protests in Oregon as well as their usual beats. The company also added freelancers to report from the public meetings where city and police policies directly affecting Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 issues were discussed, as well as less-covered police commission and human rights commission meetings.
Borderless Magazine moved Art Director Michelle Kanaar from part-time to full-time to work closely with young, immigrant artists, totaling more than 500 hours of mentoring, to give them the skills to produce impactful visual journalism. This increased the number and variety of stories produced and provided financial support to a group of people who have been hit hard by the current economic crisis. Projects produced include the multilingual “Dispatches from COVID-19” series and bilingual “Postcards from the Border” series.
Louisville Public Media hired a producer of its weekly call-in radio show, “In Conversation” to tackle deep conversations about the pandemic and ongoing protests for racial justice. Because of more aggressive local coverage of health and systemic racism, unique visitors to WFPL.org have grown 230 percent over the previous year.
Expanded DCist staffing funded by the grant to WAMU 88.5 / American University enabled a dedicated team of reporters to cover significant racial disparities, vulnerable communities, and the intersection of the pandemic and protests. Web traffic increased by 72 percent since May, users are staying on-site longer, and year-over-year, readers have doubled.
Business-focused MiBiz hired two reporters and commissioned freelancers to expanded coverage of minority-owned small businesses in Michigan and the unique challenges they face, such as a lack of access to traditional lending, as well as how the pandemic is generating a rise in entrepreneurism Additionally, MiBiz launched coverage built around mental health for small business owners as they’re coping with changes brought on by the pandemic.
Expanding local reporting
MLK50: Justice Through Journalism produced twice as many stories per month, including an additional 14 first-person accounts from affected workers and families, ensuring that this draft of history accurately captures the lived experiences of Black and low-income residents.
The grant helped sustain and bolster non-commercial daily emergency coronavirus rapid response news coverage by Radio Bilingüe for primarily low-income Spanish-speaking Latinos in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Radio Bilingüe added more weekly news broadcast hours and a higher volume assignments to ensure daily updates on COVID-19 prevention, how to access economic and food aid regardless of immigration status, and labor rights/options for audience members that are overwhelmingly being asked to stay on their jobs as essential workers.
The Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles covered coronavirus and anti-Asian discrimination in areas that lack local news targeting. The company published 19 stories in English and 19 stories in Japanese, distributed in print and online, including content for free. This resulted in a 25 percent increase in site traffic YOY.
Audience outreach and engagement
The nonprofit news organization Henrico Citizen published more than 20 in-depth COVID-19-related pieces, and averaged five articles about virus-related topics and impacts each weekday, which helped grow 1,272 new daily email newsletter signups, $7,500 in reader donations, and more than 800 social media followers across platforms.
Supported with staffing funded by the grant, THE CITY’s coronavirus tracker has been a considerable driver of audience, accounting for 14 percent of all pageviews May-July, and tool has also served as a foundation for THE CITY’s reporting on the pandemic.
Sahan Journal offset translation costs, resulting in increased service to primary stakeholders, the Hmong, Somali, and Latin communities. Funding also supported additional coverage, which tripled newsletter subscriptions, including through the work of a summer reporter who explored the complex racial identities of young members of the East African diaspora and their activism in Black Lives Matter.
Forum Communications Company recruited more than two dozen writers and artists from Native American communities and provided them with resources to contribute to a collective project, published in mid-September.
WyoFile produced nearly 65 more COVID-19 related stories, employed five more freelance journalists and served roughly an additional 10,000 readers than it would have without funding. Subscribers increased 16 percent.
Charlottesville Tomorrow engaged in marketing efforts through Facebook for lead generation and also in its email newsletter, which generated over 376 sign-ups to the email newsletter list, a significant 4.5% increase. New subscribers now get all local headlines directly to their inboxes at least twice weekly.
The Eastsider attracted more than 200 email newsletter subscribers to a new weekly newsletter and a small business newsletter since July. With increased digital marketing and promotions, The Eastsider also added 200 subscribers to its daily email and signed up new advertisers as well as generating a large pool of potential advertisers.
Technology, digital and marketing
WFSU Public Media bought supplies to support journalists, including external hard drives that provide extra audio/video storage for reporters, and software that allows FM radio operators to remotely control consoles and provide additional on-air capabilities. WFSU also bought a camera with video capability that helps expand its digital footprint and increase audiences by publishing engaging stories on various digital platforms.
DeSoto Times-Tribune purchased three new creative cloud licenses, upgraded an older computer, bought a drone, and is pursuing FAA drone licenses for two members of the editorial staff. In progress is a new website and modernized workflows for digital publishing, both of which will help DeSoto Times-Tribune take on a more ambitious approach to online journalism and make existing operations more efficient.
Dealing with no studio access for months, Voz Latina Broadcasting Inc. used funds for much-needed technology. Five computers plus microphones, lights and cameras meant staff could continue broadcasts, and upgraded internet services now facilitate better streaming, often simultaneously on local radio and Facebook Live. The Voz Latina Broadcasting space has three studios, including space for radio broadcast with video streaming capabilities, production of podcasts, and video content creation.
Business relationships, services, and events
Enlace Latino NC secured staffing for two podcast productions — Latinos en la Pandemia and De Sol a Sol — through which the company was able to more thoroughly leverage and strengthen its network of partners as valuable sources of information for production. For example, the team developed a strategic partnership with Ministerio Episcopal para los Trabajadores del Campo (Episcopal Farmworker Ministry) to promote the podcast among its 680 member families in Sampson and Duplin counties.
Ham Broadcasting Company, Inc. launched a statewide radio network in Kentucky made up of 82 affiliates and covering nearly every square mile of the mostly rural state. Travelin’ the Bluegrass, is an agriculture-centered, rural radio program largely focused on how COVID-19 is impacting farm and rural communities. In addition, Ham Broadcasting marketed a campaign that encourages #SupportLocal initiatives, coordinating with 23 local entities to use one common message: Greatest Comeback of All Time.
Voice of San Diego is starting conversations with new and old community partners to build a pipeline of sponsors for this fiscal year and beyond. This includes offering small businesses and nonprofits approximately 50 percent matches on their sponsorship packages. Voice of San Diego has sold $3,000 worth and has $20,000 more being finalized.
The Daily Yonder developed a method for consistently presenting COVID-19 updates, providing county-level choropleth maps, tables and national graphs showing infection trends across rural America. This method gave staff the means to track COVID-19 as it moved from institutional vectors — prisons, meatpacking plans, nursing homes — to community spread among the general population. Additionally, The Daily Yonder facilitated five virtual panels that brought together policy experts and community representatives to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on rural housing, disaster preparedness, public school infrastructure, and more. These convenings helped stakeholders elevate and discuss their concerns, served as the basis for additional reporting, and even instigated among the audience coordinated efforts to strengthen community response and pursue policy change.
This is just a sampling of how the $10.3 million in grant funds were used, which adds to the funds disbursed to local newsrooms earlier in 2020. Grant recipients were selected through a process led by the Local Media Association and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and with significant contributions from the Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Publishers, Local Media Consortium, and the National Association of Broadcasters.
LMA thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for supporting publishers and broadcasters serving the public with vital local news and information. Learn more about initiatives and resources from the Facebook Journalism Project.