Outpouring of relief helps local journalists faced with layoffs, pay cuts and who report from the front line
These are dark times for society, dark times for the media, and dark times for front-line local news reporters who have suffered pay cuts, layoffs and even deaths due to COVID-19. But the spark of light in these times comes from the amazing outpouring of help for local journalists, with GoFundMe campaigns to help with pay cuts; grant programs in various locales; guides to help cover the pandemic and stay safe; and timely webinars to help support reporting and the business of local media.
For the past month, I have been collecting a growing number of resources in an Airtable spreadsheet that I will continue to update. While it can get exhausting to see a guide of guides, it’s good to have everything in one place for reference. And this spreadsheet can give us hope that people truly care and will help the essential work of local journalism survive the pandemic.
Funds & Grants
Case in point: Paige Cornwell, a reporter at the Seattle Times, worked with some friends to launch a GoFundMe campaign to collect donations to help journalists who were furloughed or had pay cuts. Sadly, many newsrooms had become used to dealing with layoffs and pay cuts before, as well as running crowdfunding campaigns. But the outpouring of donations has been eye-opening, with more than $80,000+ raised so far from 850+ donors, and 245 journalists around the country receiving aid.
“Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Arizona, all over the place,” Cornwell told Poynter. “We had no idea it would get this big.”
Similarly, a campaign to support local journalists in Virginia, organized by local newspaper unions, had surpassed its early goals of $5,000 and then $15,000 and even reached its stretch goal of $20,000. The fund covers journalists at unionized or non-unionized papers, as well as freelancers.
Tech giants Facebook and Google both stepped up with large grant programs for local news outlets, both nonprofit and for-profit. National and local foundations have banded together to create special funds in Philadelphia, Chicago, Colorado and New Mexico. To keep up with the growing number of grant programs, check out the updated lists kept by Lenfest Institute, WAN-IFRA (with a focus on global funds) and SPJ Rio Grande. Also see Media Impact Funder’s list showing how media funders are responding to this moment.
There was also a marshalling of forces to transform Giving Tuesday, moved up to May 5, to #GivingNewsday to promote donations to nonprofit news organizations covering COVID-19. The project is the collaborative effort of Knight Foundation, Poynter Institute, Institute of Nonprofit News (INN), Democracy Fund, News Revenue Hub and others. The effort helped more than 100 nonprofit newsrooms raise more than $1.1 million in three days, according to INN.
Resource Guides Galore
For local journalists who need help covering the pandemic, want to stay safe while reporting in real life, and want to understand their free-press rights, there are a growing number of online resources and guides. The detailed guides come from a range of sources, including journalism associations, think tanks, and universities.
For instance, if you are looking for data on testing around the U.S. there’s the COVID Tracking Project, started by The Atlantic journalists Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, with contributors from around the world. Their data has been used by local journalists in their coverage of COVID-19, uncovering shortages of tests in California and tallying deaths in Boston. They even have an API to make the data easy to update quickly on associated projects and maps.
Poynter Institute has done a great job of putting together an array of resources, from three newsletters to fact-checking tools to reporting tips. Kristen Hare also produced a fantastic roundup of funding opportunities, training sessions, tools and much more.
And for journalists dealing with trauma and stress, there’s a guide from the Carter Center on mental health resources, and a story from Poynter listing ways to reduce stress while being on the front lines.
Those worried about their safety or press rights should check out the great legal resource guide from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, as well as the detailed roundup from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is also offering free risk assessments for physical safety and digital security for journalists and news organizations.
The “Articles” tab of my Airtable also has a number of useful resources about how local news is tackling pandemic reporting, how this crisis is affecting the overall industry, and ways that consumer news habits are changing. And the “Racial Equity” tab of the Airtable includes thought pieces, data resources and more detailing how COVID-19 has hit communities of color in disproportionate ways.
Online Training and Webinars
News associations have definitely stepped up their game providing support for journalists and publishers during the pandemic. The Institute for Nonprofit News has produced a series of member webinars and online office hours to support publishers. LION Publishers produced a timely webinar on “How to manage your local news business in the face of a pandemic,” by consultants Tim Griggs and Ryan Tuck on April 3.
The Online News Association (ONA) has converted its in-person ONA Local chapter meetings to online gatherings, including some happy hours. One recent ONA NYC online panel discussion was titled “Coping with the New Normal,” including panelists from Barron’s and the Carter Center. The ONA also created an interesting peer-support network called Community Circles, and quickly filled up its slots.
News University, part of the Poynter Institute, has dropped tuition costs for all its webinars and self-directed courses through the end of May. That includes the Trusting News Webinar series by Joy Mayer, and a series in May helping reporters uncover stories about the 2020 census during the pandemic.
In the “Event Production Tips” tab of my Airtable, you will also find tips for beefing up your own virtual events.
In these difficult days, it’s important for journalists to find support from others in the field, and stay connected to groups that want to help. I will continue to keep the special Airtable of resources updated and please send along any missing resources to me at [email protected].
Mark Glaser is a consultant and advisor with a focus on supporting local and independent news in America. He was the founder and executive director of MediaShift.org.