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July 17, 2019, 10 a.m.
Business Models

Attempting a meta-network for local news, Facebook announces community-building grantees

Recipients include 100 Days in Appalachia, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat, and the Tyler Loop, among others.

In its latest quest to build community, Facebook is trying to develop a meta-community for local news publishers to then, you know, build that community. The cycle is being completed with funding, with recipients announced Wednesday, for local outlets to host events and create tools for their own local areas.

Facebook’s year-and-a-half-old algorithmic pivot to groups was the start of the platform’s deliberate focus on bringing people together in a more heartwarming way (though groups still have their own set of issues). Today In, its recently introduced tab featuring local news articles (of questionable quality) and nearby events, is another example: Local news has been shown to bolster civic engagement and social cohesion, and coincidentally the Facebook Journalism Project, the company’s media sweetheart arm, has taken a greater interest in local news publishers and their sustainability.

“Facebook’s core mission is community and building community. And local news is one of the most important ways you can actually build community,” Anne Kornblut, former Washington Post journalist and now Facebook’s director of new initiatives, news partnerships (yep that’s her actual title), said in April.

Through its accelerators, summit, and other convenings, Facebook is trying to get local newsers working together in the broader quest toward community. Now, there’s some specific money to tie their efforts together.

The Facebook Journalism Project Community Network has selected 23 projects from a couple hundred local news applicants to receive grants between $5,000 and $25,000 to fund community-building proposals over the next six months. Facebook wouldn’t share an average grant amount but aims to give out $1.5 million through the network’s grants this year. The first batch’s recipients include the Tyler Loop’s expansion of live storytelling events, Spaceship Media’s conversation series in a port-of-entry town in Arizona, the Los Angeles Times’ book club forums, Chalkbeat’s listening tour, 100 Days in Appalachia’s “context” creator network to stop extractive reporting in its tracks, and more. (The full list is at the end of this article.)

“There are a number of projects focused on in-real-life journalism — whether that’s events or actually telling stories in person, both as a way to engage the community around the stories they want to hear more about and the things they find important to the communities where they live, but also as a potential meaningful revenue driver for any number of publications in the mix,” Josh Mabry, Facebook’s local news partnerships lead, said. “Ultimately we were looking at projects that build community, improve publisher sustainability, cover underserved areas or news deserts, and projects that really clearly defined success.”

Facebook worked with the Lenfest Institute to orchestrate the grantmaking itself; Lenfest is not contributing any funding. Teams from Facebook and Lenfest and participants in the subscription, retention, and membership accelerators for local news publishers helped winnow down applications. The next round of applications — this is a pilot, but they’re already set up for a next round — opens July 22 and Mabry said they hope to fit in one more this year.

Many recipients are names regular Nieman Lab readers might recognize: Civil-started Block Club Chicago, SMS-housing-help Outlier Media in Detroit, The Texas Tribune, and the nonprofit-status-seeking Salt Lake Tribune are some more. Projects do include several IRL gatherings but also product development and deeper community reporting processes.

“Each of these projects looks at ways in which local news can better engage with its local community and be more deserving of financial support either from users themselves or from others who are interested in those communities,” Jim Friedlich, Lenfest’s executive director, said. “Listening is good business.”

Especially as news outlets try to bump up their subscription numbers before we’re all subscribed out — but also to, you know, improve one’s journalism and actually get to know the people in one’s attempted audience — these events and tools are welcome experiments in local news, though it’s unclear what will happen to the initiatives after the funding. Previous participants of Facebook’s local news accelerators will be offering guidance on a peer-to-peer level with the community network grant recipients, and grantees are expected to share their findings in case studies after the six months are up.

“The power is in bringing folks together to tackle challenges together and we want to see more that connects the dots between these programs we’ve been building over the past few years,” Mabry said. “Things that folks are using in the accelerator are being talked about in the local news summit and can get them to apply for a grant in the future. And it can help somebody who’s applied for a grant figure out how to solve challenges they’re facing.”

Here’s the full list of recipients:

  1. 100 Days in Appalachia: Pilot a network of “context” creators (rather than content creators) to help reporters/editors cover the region with nuance and depth that prevents extractive storytelling, stereotypes and simplistic narratives. Produce toolkit with guidelines on how — and how not to — cover the region for release for the 2020 election year cycle.
  2. Block Club Chicago, Chicago, IL: Create a fellowship to cover and host community gatherings in the underserved Far South Side.
  3. Carolina Public Press, North Carolina: Embed reporters in food banks across North Carolina. Conduct listening sessions with food bank clients, community forums, produce stories and two online toolkits aimed at uncovering root causes and potential solutions to hunger.
  4. Chalkbeat, New York, NY: Conduct a multi-city listening tour combining live events with online surveys to understand gaps in local education information.
  5. Crosstown LA, Los Angeles: Creating new products to scale up data sharing with local newsrooms.
  6. Detour Media LLC, Detroit, MI: Grow membership to 50 percent of monthly revenue through a Community Powered Journalist program that includes citizen journalism trainings, public workshops, community meetings, Q&As and community interaction.
  7. Documented, New York, NY: Create a database sourced through public records that identifies New York companies guilty of wage theft and distribute this information to consumers.
  8. EducationNC, Raleigh, NC: Launch a six-month effort to build community and audience among students at North Carolina’s 58 community colleges through a series of town halls.
  9. High Ground News, Memphis, TN: Expanding coverage of Memphis neighborhoods to include community contributors by providing residents with tools, training, mentorship and editing support from an assigned mentor and the news team.
  10. Injustice Watch, Chicago, IL: Partner with community organizations and newsrooms to create a series of events called, “Know the System,” that will include panel discussions on various aspects of the criminal justice system.
  11. Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA: Fund community forums and provide copies of monthly book selections to nonprofits and others in conjunction with the new Los Angeles Times Book Club.
  12. Mississippi Today, MS: Expand our Mississippi expatriates efforts with events in nearby states, a monthly newsletter and an expat Facebook group.
  13. Native American Journalists Association, Norman, OK: NAJA’s goal is to increase the Indigenous voice in newsrooms from 0.2 percent to 2 percent within the next 10 years by targeting Indigenous student journalists with specialized training and mentorship.
  14. Newsday, Long Island, NY: Pilot an obituary outreach program to create stories of Long Island residents currently underrepresented in Newsday’s coverage.
  15. Nevada Public Radio, Las Vegas, NV: Collaborative reporting project focused on acute issues of rural healthcare access in Tonopah, Nevada
  16. Omaha Star, Omaha, NE: Tackle responsible neighborhood development and gentrification in one of Omaha’s historically underserved communities through collaboration with neighborhood associations and deep reporting. The process will become a template for neighborhood leaders.
  17. Outlier Media, Detroit, MI: Develop and test a watchdog news product to reach low-income news consumers and share associated research with newsrooms.
  18. Radio Ambulante, New York, NY: Develop and open source a platform for Listening Clubs, an engagement model for podcast listeners to organize independent gatherings based on audio journalism.
  19. Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, UT: Coordinate, analyze and report on a never-before conducted poll of Utah women where they face the nation’s widest wage gap. Host focus groups for targeted populations, including women of color, lesbians, youth and trans women.
  20. Spaceship Media, San Francisco, CA: Partner with the local library for “On the Fence,” a conversation series aimed at building trust, connection and civic engagement in Douglas, Arizona, where a new port of entry has polarized and divided the community.
  21. Texas Tribune, Austin, TX: Increase audience diversification, newsletter acquisition and involvement in the next election cycle by targeting people new to Texas and/or Texas politics through an “onboarding Texans” email campaign.
  22. Tyler Loop, Tyler, TX: Expand successful storytelling events to promote diverse and fresh perspectives while building audience, increasing memberships and adding sponsorships.
  23. WURD Radio, Philadelphia, PA: Creation of community-sourced “WURD Show On The Go,” a new initiative rooted in community engagement and local news generation.
POSTED     July 17, 2019, 10 a.m.
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