Community Listening and Engagement Fund announces grants to 20 local newsrooms to support coverage of COVID-19 pandemic

Today, The Community Listening and Engagement Fund is excited to announce grants to 20 news organizations to subsidize usage of tools and services that will help local publishers respond to community needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. This support, totaling nearly $50,000, will allow these newsrooms to produce relevant and differentiated coverage for the public they serve by using tools and consulting designed for this purpose.

Early studies show that communities of color are disproportionately at-risk for financial and health challenges stemming from COVID-19. This provides a unique opportunity for newsrooms to work to meet the urgent needs of  communities that have been historically marginalized by the media. By taking on a service orientation to communities that have often been overlooked and serving them well, both in and out of crises, we can rebuild the bonds that have been broken for far too long.

CLEF is proud to support a diverse cohort that will boldly approach the challenges its communities are facing during the pandemic.

65% of our grantees are in the 10 states most impacted by the coronavirus. 60% of our grantees are aiming to serve communities of color. And when we asked grantees about the leadership of their news organizations, 45% identified as female, 25% identified as a person of color, and 15% identified as LGBTQ+. 

Founded in 2018, CLEF 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 relevant and trusted coverage for the diverse audiences they serve. 

CLEF subsidizes usage of tools and services designed to help newsrooms engage with their communities: Hearken, GroundSource, Coral by Vox Media, The Listening Post Collective, and DocumentCloud/MuckRock.

Outlets around the country have met the moment, producing outstanding journalism even while facing great uncertainty. In addition to grants, we’ve curated strategies and resources to help newsrooms assess their community information needs. We also created a printable toolkit for journalists to map out their approaches to engagement.

If you have other ideas for support that we can provide please let us know by emailing [email protected]

Below is a list of grant recipients:

The Arizona Republic, Phoenix, AZ

Service: Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A tool

Grant amount: $5,000

The Arizona Republic plans to focus its reporting efforts on essential and hourly workers. It aims to help readers navigate the more than 600 pieces of content it has published since the pandemic began. It wants to use Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A tool to simplify the forms it’s currently using to engage with community members. Much of this technology and support would also be applicable and usable for La Voz, The Republic’s Spanish-language publication. La Voz often translates articles and is transitioning to focus even more on original reporting.

Bay City News Foundation, Berkeley, CA

Service: Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A Tool

Grant amount: $3,594

The City News Foundation is currently testing stories, strategies and solutions while experimenting with engagement in the Bay Area. It will use Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A tool to create an information hub with verified, accurate information about COVID-19 that is specific to the food, shelter, housing, employment, schooling, recreation and community connection needs of its audiences.

Block Club Chicago, Chicago, IL

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support

Grant amount: $1,600

Block Club Chicago has written more than 475 coronavirus stories from the neighborhoods it covers in the last month alone, providing real-time, accurate updates to Chicagoans. It has been rolling out a free daily COVID-19 newsletter packed with need-to-know information and updates, as well as guides to connect sick people and out-of-work residents with the resources they need and Chicagoans with ways to help. The newsroom plans to use GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support to notify readers about breaking news as well as a direct way for audiences to reach reporters and feel even more connected.

Carolina Public Press, Asheville, North Carolina

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology & consulting support

Grant amount: $1,600

Carolina Public Press will use the GroundSource technology to recruit community members during the pandemic to document information needs in order to serve them better, with a focus on rural communities and their less prepared health care systems.

Cicero Independiente, LLC, Cicero, IL

Service: Listening Post’s coaching and capacity support

Grant amount: $1,500

Cicero Independiente, a newsroom aimed at reaching the bilingual audiences who are left out of most local coverage, plans to use Listening Post’s coaching and capacity support to reach and better serve bilingual community members who have little to no access to online news publications. Cicero Independiente plans to provide the necessary information and tools to ensure that people feel comfortable getting involved in holding their local government agencies responsible.

CrosstownLA, Los Angeles, CA

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support 

Grant amount: $1,600

Crosstown LA created a COVID-19 infection rate map that shows how coronavirus is impacting communities in Los Angeles differently. It plans to use GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support to share this data via text messages and send out infection rates and changes for specific neighborhoods.

The Current, Lafayette, LA

Service: Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A tool

Grant amount: $3,594

The Current Media is making a COVID-19 Resource Dashboard available to its readers while also co-moderating a pandemic Facebook group with two other newsrooms, using that as a vehicle for sourcing and understanding information needs. It will use Coral by Vox Media’s Q&A tool to keep pace with their readers’ questions about the pandemic and feature those as discussion themes in their publications. 

Injustice Watch, Chicago, IL

Service: Hearken’s Virtual Meeting Design and Execution

Grant amount: $2,850

While Injustice Watch is focusing on the systemic inequities in the justice system in the Chicago area, it is currently tracking the impact that the coronavirus is having in jails, prisons, and among vulnerable Chicagoans. It is working to bridge the disconnect between journalism and marginalized communities. It envisions using Hearken to help it integrate community listening and engagement into reporters’ workflows. Injustice Watch would like to do a digital listening tour and have their reporters trained in facilitation and creative content production processes that turn engagement into content.

inewsource, San Diego, CA

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support

Grant amount: $1,600

Investigative Newsource is focusing on important accountability stories of COVID-19 effects on the community, including on the community clinics and on practices at the VA Hospital. GroundSource will enable inewsource to effectively reach members of the military and veteran communities as there is an imminent demand for reporting to advance the health and well being of military connected individuals and families. The service will also help the newsroom reach communities in Imperial County, a region with a high poverty rate and substantial vulnerable populations who do not have access to high-end technology.

InsideClimate News, Brooklyn, NY

Service: MuckRock & DocumentCloud’s Records Requesting and Analysis Tools & Coaching

Grant amount: $2,400

InsideClimate News is currently expanding its social media presence while engaging with readers across multiple online platforms including their daily “Today’s Climate” and weekly “Inside Clean Energy” newsletters. Using MuckRock will enable it to dig deeper into COVID-19 stories that reveal how current government policies and emergency stimulus funds adversely impact or fail to equally benefit low income communities and communities of color. 

Minnesota Public Radio, Saint Paul, MN

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support 

Grant amount: $1,600

Minnesota Public Radio is using online survey tools to gather community questions and stories on the COVID-19 pandemic. It is using questions directly from listeners when interviewing officials, and working with a translation service to provide community-specific news. MPR News anticipates using GroundSource as both a service for getting urgent and practical information into the hands of a larger and diverse audience as well as a more accessible channel to allow its listeners to share their information needs and stories.

Newark Public Radio/WBGO, Newark, NJ

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support

Grant amount: $1,600

Newark Public Radio plans to use GroundSource as a way to create an expanded pathway of communication for city residents. As COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color, this service will support engagement with different community members and stakeholders as well as generate news content for a community that is predominantly Black and Brown and already marginalized before this pandemic.

Northern California Public Media, Rohnert Park, CA

Service: Hearken’s Engagement Management System

Grant amount: $2,850

Currently, Northern California Public Media’s Coronavirus coverage is completely driven by its outreach to the community and its response to their outreach. With this funding, it plans to pivot from coverage which focuses exclusively on coronavirus safety and recovery, to a broader view of the community recovery from COVID-19 and how political candidates are equipped to address it. Hearken will enable them to reach out directly to their community, as well as to bring voters to the Hearken platform, and their questions to political candidates.

Pacific Pubic Media, Tacoma, Washington

Service: Listening Post’s coaching and capacity support

Grant amount: $1,500

Pacific Public Media is engaging the community through its recently launched “Take the Mic” project, which is reaching out to teens, and asking them to submit audio diaries of their experiences during COVID-19. The newsroom will use the Listening Post tools to further this project as well as to get the word out to underserved communities.

San José Spotlight, San Jose, California

Service: GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support

Grant amount: $1,600

San José Spotlight will use GroundSource’s SMS technology and consulting support to reach those audiences who do not have reliable access to the internetThis funding will allow it to to engage this hard-to-reach segment of its community to share their stories, answer their questions, gather feedback and keep them updated and informed about the COVID-19 crisis.

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington

Service: Hearken’s Virtual Meeting Design & Execution

Grant amount: $3,500

The Spokesman-Review plans to use Hearken to do more audience engagement and take different approaches to also include Millennials and Gen-Xers in response to the pandemic.

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, FL

Service: Hearken’s Engagement Management System

Grant amount: $2,850

The Tampa Bay Times will use Hearken’s Engagement Management System to engage with readers on its website to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic’s short-term and long-term impact on mental health. It will ask people about the stories they’d like to see that can help them recover psychologically, their perspectives on their living conditions, and what they’re looking forward to the most when the worst of the pandemic is over.

Washington City Paper, Washington, DC

Service: Hearken’s Engagement Management System

Grant amount: $2,850

Washington City Paper is furthering its reporting on maternal health in Washington D.C., particularly during the pandemic. It also plans to incorporate D.C.’s mothers, elevate their voices, and connect them with the business and policy leaders who can bring about change. It will use Hearken’s services to produce an election guide, fueled by voters’ voices, that addresses the issues that matter most to D.C. voters and demands answers because of the credibility of our audience’s voices. 

WJCT, Jacksonville, FL

Service: Hearken’s Engagement Management System

Grant amount: $2,850

WJCT operates in a region where hurricane season creates both acute information needs and coverage challenges. WJCT envisions using Hearken to expand and enhance its audience-responsive reporting capabilities during this pandemic, and well beyond, especially as the hurricane season is approaching. 

WLRN, Miami, FL

Service: Listening Post’s coaching & capacity support

Grant amount: $3,000

WLRN aims to shed light on how communities of color of South Florida are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. WLRN envisions using the Listening Post Collective to come up with new strategies to connect with hard-to-reach communities. They are also hoping to use The Listening Post tools to identify community partners in Creole-speaking neighborhoods across South Florida. 

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