When Terry Williams, president and CEO of The Keene Sentinel in southwest New Hampshire, began asking people in the community about their most pressing issues, health care access was immediately a top concern.
“We talk about the fact that there are really two things that are very difficult to get in Cheshire County,” Williams said. “One is a house and the second is a primary care physician.”
The Sentinel was part of the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, which Williams credits with giving him the tools to begin fundraising. In February, the Sentinel launched the Monadnock Region Health Reporting Lab, moving the Sentinel’s health reporter, Olivia Belanger, to long-form, solutions-oriented reporting for the lab.
So far, Williams has raised $60,000 for this year; his goal is $86,000 per year for the next three years.
“I have to be honest, asking for money is not my thing,” Williams said. “I’m not saying I’m good at it, but between the [LMA] coaches and the program, it gets you to the ask. It gets you in the door, and it makes you believe strongly in the work that you do. And when you do that, it’s a lot easier to ask the question.”
Williams said most of his success came from directly approaching locals — individuals, foundations and philanthropists — and making his case for the lab, rather than applying for grants through large national organizations.
“On a one-on-one basis, when I’ve met with people, they’ve seen the need, they’re willing to do something,” Williams said. “The people that you know in the community, who believe in our mission as a newspaper, tend to be supportive.”
The Lab helped Williams perfect his pitch to local investors.
“We had identified a need; we had identified an approach that I think people could look at, understand, and could see how it could be successful,” he said. “And we had identified, as best we could, potential areas of impact and things that we could measure.”
Part of the Sentinel’s pitch was that all of the content produced by the Health Reporting Lab would be available outside any subscription paywall. Making this content free is part of the paper’s broader effort to expand access and reach underserved communities in the area.
In its first few months of the lab, Bolanger has written about local paramedics who have struggled to find hospital beds during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the theft of fentanyl from a local hospital. She’s also focused on the area’s high rate of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and on communities elsewhere in the country that found ways to serve populations with a large number of dementia patients.
The LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, enabled through continued support from Google News Initiative, is “a process that works,” Williams said. He says the influence of the lab goes far beyond the money raised by participants.
“At the end of the day, when you add up all of the impact from the work that has been made possible by all that, it’s going to be huge. Hard to measure, obviously, but in sheer volume and in sheer value — just so significant.”