CLEF COVID-19 Response Fund

The $50,000 fund will subsidize the use of listening and engagement tools and services for specific needs related to coverage of the pandemic and its effects on communities. The CLEF COVID-19 Response Fund is open to both nonprofit and for-profit newsrooms that are already committed to community engagement and are looking to advance their work in response to COVID-19.

Founded in 2018, The Community Listening and Engagement Fund is a project of The News Integrity Initiative, Democracy Fund, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and Knight Foundation. The grant-making initiative was designed to help news organizations produce more relevant and trusted coverage for the diverse audiences they serve. 

What is the CLEF COVID-19 Response Fund? 

The CLEF COVID-19 Response Fund will provide grants to fill immediate gaps for resource-constrained newsrooms looking for support to better engage and serve their communities. The fund is designed to help news organizations better listen to, engage and produce more relevant and differentiated content for the public they serve by using models, tools and consulting designed for this purpose.

Who is the Fund for? 

Local newsrooms based in the U.S. that have a commitment to community engagement already evident in the workflow and product are eligible to apply. CLEF will help subsidize the cost of services that have a track record of helping newsrooms accomplish these goals: Hearken, GroundSource, the Listening Post Collective, Coral by Vox Media, and DocumentCloud/MuckRock. 

Preference will be given to applications that meet the following criteria:

  • Organizations that show self-awareness of their need for technology and/or consulting expertise to take their engagement practices & COVID-19 response to the next level
  •  Organizations that have a clear use case for how to use service to support their community engagement around COVID-19
  •  Organizations serving a highly-impacted community
  •  Small, independent news organizations
  •  Projects that serve underrepresented communities

How do I apply? 

Starting with April 20, 2020, you can access the application form by clicking on this link. The application will take between 30 minutes and 1 hour to complete. 

When is the deadline? 

 The application is due by April 27th, 2020 at 11:59PM EST.

Is my newsroom guaranteed a subsidy? 

No. The fund is limited and preference will be given to newsrooms with the most need and who show the signs of readiness for and commitment to listening and engagement. When newsrooms take on engagement work, they run the risk of further eroding trust of the public if they do not follow through, therefore the application process will screen for signs of readiness and commitment.

Can I apply for a subsidy for more than one service? 

No. When applying, you will only be able to apply for a subsidy for one of the supported services.

Can I still apply if I’ve already been a CLEF grantee?


Do I already need to be using one of these services to apply?

No. You can apply if you are not currently using any of the tools or services.

What is Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A tool?

The new Q&A tool makes it easy to provide your audience with essential information. Readers ask, reporters and invited experts answer – live and only on your site. Backed by Coral’s world-class toolset, it prevents trolls and makes it easy to provide advice and support. 

What should I know about GroundSource?

This platform helps newsrooms to build and scale two-way relationships with audiences and communities via mobile messaging and voice. It’s also a service that helps newsrooms imagine and implement new ways to reach out to communities, build trust, solicit donations (via Stripe), and become more responsive to audience needs and interests. 

What should I know about Hearken?

Hearken helps newsrooms operationalize listening and engagement to create relevant, original coverage and grow paying customers (subscribers, members). Hearken is providing two potential options for newsrooms:

  • Newsrooms / organizations who are focused on COVID-19 response to join their COVID-19 cohort and access the Hearken Engagement Management System. This includes weekly webinars focused on actionable steps organizations can take to respond to audience questions and information needs in their COVID response.
  • Virtual workshops customized to the engagement needs of organizations in their COVID-19 response. This can include topics such as: connecting engagement to revenue and sponsorship, designing and piloting engagement experiments, integrating community listening and engagement into workflows, designing mutual aid networks.

What should I know about DocumentCloud/MuckRock?

In addition to both MuckRock’s Freedom of Information tracking tools and early access to the improved DocumentCloud Beta, they are hosting a series of webinars designed to help participants understand what kinds of requests will best result in documents and data to inform their communities. Throughout the next six months, they will be collating original collections of key documents, data sets, and other primary source materials that can be used to let reporters more quickly focus on the local angles that matter to your audience. In addition to bi-weekly coaching sessions, MuckRock experts are available to help workshop requests, guide large-scale request projects, and help load massive document sets into DocumentCloud for advanced analysis or publication.    

What should I know about the Listening Post?

Listening Post Collective has organized a roster of coaches and services for newsrooms that have essential gaps that need to be filled. They can consult and support newsrooms facing the following challenges (for the purpose of this program, we can only support consulting on one of these topics):

  • Guidance and coaching on how to prioritize their news agendas and content to reflect their networks’ changing needs and concerns
  • Immediate translation services so that they can make resources and critical information available for non-English speakers
  • Strategies for sharing news and information with hard to reach communities
  • Strategies for working remotely and adjusting workflow across remote teams
  • Long-term sustainability for their services and content knowing their key services will be needed for months to come
  • General editing support (developmental, first and second edits, fact-checking, copy editing)
  • SMS news sharing strategies

How much do these services cost and how much is subsidized?

If provided with a grant the amount provided will cover the full cost of the service for the supported period.

  • Coral by Vox Media: The Q&A tool costs $1,797 for three months and $3,594 for six months.
  • GroundSource: The cost of this service ranges significantly based on the number of texts sent and received in a month. Onboarding starts at $1,000 plus $100 monthly usage costs.
  • Hearken: Hearken: The cost to access Hearken’s engagement management system for 4 months and engage in 6 webinars is $2,850. Their virtual consulting rate is $3,500 per day.
  • Listening Post Collective: The cost for the Listening Post’s consulting on one of these topics is approximately $1,500.
  • DocumentCloud/MuckRock : The cost of MuckRock’s suite of tools and consulting calls is $1,200 for an annual subscription for up to 5 users, and $2,400 for up to 15 users.

Anything else to note? 

Applicants must agree that if they are awarded a grant, the Lenfest Institute can use information provided in the initial application and subsequent reporting form to share lessons with other local news organizations

Other questions?

Please feel free to reach out to [email protected].