To bolster its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in Memphis, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism received one of more than 200 Facebook grants for local news outlets, Facebook announced today.
The $72,420 grant is part of $16 million awarded by Facebook Journalism Project’s COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund. The grant will help sustain MLK50’s coverage of the pandemic’s effect on vulnerable Memphians, including low-wage workers who are the subject of an ongoing series.
A portion of the grant will go toward developing an SMS (text message) system designed to meet the coronavirus information needs of vulnerable residents, said Wendi C. Thomas, MLK50’s editor and publisher.
“The focus will be on ZIP codes that have the lowest broadband internet access and residents’ responses will be used to guide reporting,” she said.
This project is in collaboration with local media outlets Chalkbeat Tennessee, High Ground News and Contemporary Media, Inc., which publishes the Memphis Flyer.
Only 7% of 2,000 applicants were chosen to receive the Facebook funding. MLK50 is one of 48 Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) member newsrooms that received grants.
INN membership is restricted to nonprofit newsrooms that meet IRS 501(c)(3) standards, or are fiscally sponsored by an organization that does; produce investigative and/or public service reporting, and are transparent about funding sources.
“We’re committed to listening to working Memphians and centering their needs and aspirations in our coverage,” said MLK50 managing editor, Deborah Douglas.
“This new round of funding will allow us to meet them where they are with tools that will facilitate meaningful connections. We want folks to experience being seen and heard, so we can produce the kind of journalism and community engagement that will make a difference in their lives.”
Anna Traverse Fogle, CEO of Contemporary Media, said access to timely, accurate information is “critical for all Memphians always but especially in these scary, uncertain times. We’re fortunate to do this work of sharing access to information alongside other talented, creative local journalists.
“There could be no better time to join forces with our peers,” Fogle said. “We are filled with respect for our colleagues at MLK50, High Ground News and Chalkbeat, and excited about the work we can create together for the city whose people we value so much.”
The yet-unnamed collaborative project will borrow from the successful Outlier Media model, which allows users to connect directly with reporters and provides important accountability to policymakers.
The project, which was founded in 2016 by Sarah Alvarez, “will bring to Memphis the service journalism approach Outlier has used to decrease information gaps and increase accountability in Detroit,” said Candice Fortman, CEO of Outlier Media.
“Providing residents, especially those most undeserved by traditional media, with direct access to high-value, fact-checked data allows newsrooms to redistribute some of their watchdog function and then focus scarce reporting resources on the accountability projects likely to have the most community impact,” she said.
“We also believe in the power of newsroom collaboration. The more opportunities journalists have to work together using shared resources and learning, the stronger our news ecosystems will become.”
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.