Newsletter: Serving communities through local journalism

It may be summer, but it’s been a busy few weeks for us at The Lenfest Institute. We recently opened calls for participation for the News Philanthropy Summit, the first-ever conference solely focused on fundraising in news, and our partners at the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, an independent joint venture of the Knight Foundation and The Lenfest Institute, announced new grants to support local news in Philadelphia. Keep scrolling to learn more about both, but first Roxann Stafford, the Knight-Lenfest Fund’s managing director, will share some updates on the Philadelphia COVID-19 Community Information Fund.


Journalism as mutual aid

By Roxann Stafford

Since I joined the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund in 2019, we have taken a mutual-aid approach to journalism, where we see news and information as a vehicle for solidarity. This overarching strategic framing was co-designed with a larger community of predominately journalists and publishers of color, investors, artists, researchers, and technologists in journalism, media, and adjacent industries. Little did we know at the time that the pandemic and the renewed call to action around racial justice and systemic inequalities would soon be a crucible to see if mutual aid is a possible future for journalism.

When designing the Philadelphia COVID-19 Community Information Fund last year, we asked folks to boldly and creatively explore what love and affection looks like in action using news and information to help communities navigate the pandemic and ensure their resiliency. The Fund is a project of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund and the Independence Public Media Foundation. We were fortunate that many answered that call and continue to collaborate, deeply listen, and embrace their role in this time of reinvention and reimagination. 

As author, activist and scholar adrienne maree brown wrote in “living through the unveiling,” her powerful 2017 essay, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil….The veil never hid us from others, it only ever hid us from ourselves. Now that more of us can see who we truly are, we must begin/continue to move towards who we truly want and need to be in order to sustain human life on this planet.”

suIt’s important to have news and information providers that not only uncover, but also help us all see our interconnectedness and move us closer to a just world. My Lenfest Institute colleagues Kyra Miller and Joseph Lichterman spoke with three of the Community Information Fund and Knight-Lenfest Fund grantees — Comadre Luna, Big Picture Alliance, and WHYY’s N.I.C.E. — to learn more about their work.


Meet Comadre Luna, the feminist collective supporting the Latinx community

By Kyra Miller

At the onset of the pandemic, the Comadre Luna collective moved quickly to support its community with actionable information through podcasts, a WhatsApp group, and more. 

I spoke with founder Ana Martina and Comadre Luna team members Sara Giraldo, and Cristina Arancibia to learn more. Here’s an edited and condensed excerpt of our conversation. You can read the full Q&A here.

Kyra Miller: Give me an overview of your project and the thinking behind it.

Ana Martina: We submitted a project for the production of two podcasts. When we started in 2020, when COVID hit, we were no longer able to meet in person with the community we had been working with before. Actually, when we connected with Sara it was the last in-person gathering on International Women’s Day, March 8. After that we began transitioning into online gatherings and trying to offer emotional support to the women that we were working with before. We started realizing that the levels of anxiety in women were increasing tremendously. There also was a need for reliable information and sources for mutual-aid support. So, we started gathering information that was being shared from various organizations to share on social media and in a WhatsApp chat we created with the community. 

Not everyone is able to be in front of a computer, and some people struggle with using a computer. Mothers are very busy, some are left without jobs and have to take care of homeschooling children.

So our thought was to create a format that is easy to access that they can just listen to and not need to sign into any different platforms. That’s how we started putting together the first podcast, La Canasta. The format is five or ten minutes with compiled resources including mutual aid, COVID testing, schools, emotional support, mental support, domestic violence, rent, and more. We compiled and put all of this information together not just in a way that was accessible, but in Spanish. We realized that most of this information was only available in English. A lot of our work came from language justice in our community.

Then we started working on the second podcast, which is a longer version of La Canasta, called La Cacerola. For this podcast we wanted to go more in-depth about the experiences we all were facing including COVID and racial inequalities. With the riots this summer there started to be a lot of division in Latino communities, which is why we started talking about important issues like anti-Blackness within the Latinx community, gentrification, and understanding the history of racism in Philadelphia.

We also proposed a series of workshops to support digital literacy skills. A lot of the women we were working with were struggling with the transition into online spaces. The goal with these workshops was to supply women with basic skills to be able to access services for women everywhere.

Cristina Arancibia: It is very important for women to be able to take these workshops to get technology help. These women are very grateful for these workshops, and it is amazing that we can do this to help women. We also are doing lots of work with graphics. I think visualizations are very important.

Miller: What type of feedback are you all receiving from the community?

Martina: Members come to the Collective through listening to the stories we put together and end up getting more involved. The piece on the history of racism in Fishtown got a lot of feedback. Lots of people didn’t know about this history or about crimes that have happened against the Puerto Rican community, harassment minority kids have to endure in school, or how gentrification happened in the area.

Sara Giraldo: The podcast has been super powerful and educational. In general, this has been very empowering for the members of the Comadre Luna. It feels that more people who hear the podcasts listen to it when they are cooking and end up sharing it with their families. It’s a very warming way of telling stories, and the more people listen to us the closer they get to our community. They end up asking to participate more and begin to feel supported by us.


How Big Picture Alliance engages youth through filmmaking 

By Kyra Miller

Screenshot from a COmmunity VIDeo Resiliency video


To keep young filmmakers engaged throughout the pandemic, the youth media organization Big Picture Alliance created the COmmunity VIDeo Resiliency Project, which supported filmmakers exploring how the pandemic was affecting their communities.  

I spoke with Big Picture Alliance Executive Director Aleks Martray, Social Media Manager Nasya Jenkins, and Tech Supervisor and Media Manager Jose Quintana about the project. Here’s an edited and condensed excerpt of our conversation. You can read the full Q&A here.

Kyra Miller: What are some specific challenges facing youth during the pandemic that maybe people don’t commonly know or think about?

Nasya Jenkins: The two biggest things that people know about, but not the severity of it, was a lot of the social justice movement, and things that were happening within communities who are less fortunate. Specifically with the digital divide, many weren’t even aware that people had to go out and find internet. People with kids would sometimes be running the risk of getting sick just to get their children internet. Then there are some people comfortably working from home with no issue with their internet. This was a real eye-opener for a lot of people.

We have done a lot of programming around social justice with another partner, Youth Set the Stage. People didn’t really put two and two together with youth, education, and social justice, how they affect each other, and why teaching them all together is really important.

That is something that people should start thinking about more, specifically along the lines of education, so that we don’t exclude anyone’s experience or certain parts of history that are really important to know.

Aleks Martray: A really common phrase that came up a lot is how the pandemic really amplified a lot of social inequities that already existed. There is this illusion that digital equity, education equity, and housing are all issues that the pandemic suddenly created. This is our society revealed. If you are not going to be radical and work together to create change, when are you going to? That’s language I’ve heard with all of our partners. It’s the refrain that this project really helped to uplift. A lot of these movements that are going on right now have been going on for a long time and now they are getting a platform, which is really important. The key now, I think, is how do we keep this work and momentum going when we are not in “unprecedented times.” 

Miller: This grant program was launched as a COVID relief fund, and now we have seen a dueling pandemic with the social justice movement and civil unrest. How did you all grapple with these dueling pandemics?

Jenkins: Working in this program saves my life every single day. I live close to 52nd Street, and the riot that broke out at 52nd Street started in front of my house. Experiencing that and everything else that happened this summer was a lot, and BPA really brought it all to light. Those people aren’t out there doing these things just to do it, they want to be heard. They want to be seen. I’m fortunate enough to have a platform and am able to speak about how I feel about my experience. BPA amplifies and secures that for me, and doesn’t make me feel like I’m less than, or not important. The biggest part of BPA is that they make everybody who’s anybody feel super important, heard, and special. That is something that everyone deserves.

Martray: This is what media making is all about. You are looking at the world through a lens and are able to tell not only your personal experience from your perspective but you’re able to work with others from your community to uplift and amplify that to share challenges and solutions. Young people should be a part of crafting the solutions that impact them. Media is a good way to have a seat at the table. There is a feeling of helplessness which is valid for everyone. There is so much less that we have control over. Being able to create media is a way to take some of that control back and have a voice in how things pan out during and after this pandemic.


Inside N.I.C.E.’s approach to collaborative journalism

By Joseph Lichterman

The News and Information Community Exchange — N.I.C.E. — is a WHYY initiative that builds partnerships with local Philadelphia journalists and mediamakers to help elevate their community-centered reporting and connect them with one another. The partners meet weekly to share story ideas and for professional development trainings. Participants are compensated for their time, and the partners maintain ownership over their reporting. The project is part of the COVID-19 Community Information Fund, but it is funded solely by the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund. 

I chatted with WHYY Community Outreach Organizer Eric Marsh, Sr., who manages N.I.C.E., and WHYY Managing Editor for Community & Engagement Chris Norris about the program. Here’s an edited and condensed excerpt of our conversation. You can read the full Q&A here.

Joseph Lichterman: One of the things I think is most interesting about N.I.C.E. is that it’s described as a form of mutual aid. I’d be curious to hear more about the thinking behind that and how you can approach journalism from this mutual-aid approach. 

Chris Norris: For us, in a very Philly sense, it means me looking out for you, and you looking out for me. N.I.C.E. started with this recognition that communities aren’t just consumers of news and information, but they’re producers of it, too. By closing the gap between grassroots content creators and more mainstream organizations, we as an organization, WHYY, would be better off as a public media institution. But so would these communities. Because at the end of the day, it’s about our communities getting informed.

Anyone who’s honest, would say that there are people in the communities who provide information that are closer to people, and closer to issues, and closer to neighborhoods than traditional journalists could ever be. Rather than trying to compete, how do you strengthen those people on the grassroots level so that the entire ecosystem benefits? That’s what’s at the heart of the project: transforming this local news ecosystem by organizing, developing, and supporting grassroots content creators who can add perspective, historical context, source diversity, and multiculturalism into the reporting that’s severely lacking. 

WHYY gets wisdom and insight and community connections from these creators, they get professional development opportunities to connect and co-report with our reporters and editors, mentorships, audience growth and audience exposure, brand alignment, and greater brand recognition. 

And I think that during the pandemic everyone else in society is mostly going to a mutual aid concept. So why not journalism? I think this is probably one of the bigger innovations in journalism that I’ve been a part of and that I’ve seen, because it’s about power. The one thing that people tend to not want to disrupt in the context of journalism is power, who has the power to tell the story, who has the power to shape the narrative, and who’s the gatekeeper. And now we are expanding the tent of who gets to be recognized for committing acts of journalism. That’s valuable.

Lichterman: I love that phrase, acts of journalism. What does this look like in practice? Can you share some examples of how you’re trying to redistribute that power and foster these collaborations?

Marsh: To your question about power, I think one of the examples that comes up is one of our partners, Purple Blackwell, who’s been operating an internet radio station for many years, doing arts and culture, entertainment, background conversations, and interviews. She has a relationship with local elected officials, and more specifically, the mayor and recently broke a news story about a veteran who was on a hunger strike protesting the mayor’s lack of response to addressing gun violence. That’s turned into a really deep conversation across media outlets about this individual who many didn’t consider a journalist and how she was able to, one, break this story. But two, to continue to dig deep to bring both sides together and talk about all the players involved, including the council member who wrote the bill that the veteran was on hunger strike and asking the mayor to address. Her connectedness to the community, I think speaks to something that’s been missing in journalism for a very long time. Something that many community members and residents respect and look for. I think that was a great example of how this is different in redistributing or rethinking this idea of power in journalism and news.


News and Notes:

• The Lenfest News Philanthropy Network is hosting the first-ever News Philanthropy Summit November 3 and 4. The fully virtual summit is free and open to all. You can learn more about the gathering here, and here are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Pitch a session: What should we discuss at the Summit? Is there a topic you’d like to present on or learn about? Do you have a particular experience you want to share? Are there any speakers that we must include? Let us know by filling out this form. You can pitch your own sessions or nominate others that you’re interested in learning from. The deadline to submit session proposals is Friday September 10 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. 
  • Attend the Summit: We’ll be sending out formal Summit registrations later this fall, but if you want to make sure you know when registration is open, you can sign up here and we’ll send you updates as we get closer to the event. 
  • Share the news: The News Philanthropy Summit is free and open to all, so please feel free to pass along this information to friends and colleagues who may be interested in joining the Network and attending the Summit. You can register your interest to either pitch your own session, propose a topic you’d like to learn about, or indicate your interest in attending, by filling out this form

• The Community Voices Fund, a collaboration between the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, the Independence Public Media Foundation, and the HealthSpark foundation last week announced $2.3 million in grants to 47 organizations who applied to an open call. 

The Community Voices Fund focused on supporting community media-makers, journalists, and other organizations who are creating community-centered news and information. The partners prioritized voices and leaders from communities traditionally underrepresented in philanthropy, with a special emphasis on LGBTQ+, AAPI and Indigenous communities.

“These organizations, projects, collectives and initiatives aren’t only voices of the community, they are calls to action to strengthen and inspire our collective communities by addressing the systems that need to be reimagined and reinvented so justice is possible,” said Roxann Stafford, managing director of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund. Learn more here


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