S. E. Williams | Contributor
The Black Voice News is being recognized for its role in the ongoing efforts to fill the information gap for Black Americans who are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 owed to longstanding racial and economic disparities.
This week the publication was awarded a $100,000 grant, part of Facebook’s Journalism Project COVID-19 program for local newsrooms.
According to the grant announcement, more than 200 news organizations were awarded nearly $16 million in grants through the Facebook Journalism Project’s relief fund for local news. These grants stem from $25 million in local news relief funding announced in March as part of Facebook’s $100 million global investment in news. The fund is supporting many publishers who are hardest hit by this crisis: nearly 80 percent of recipients are family- or independently owned and more than half are published by or for communities of color, including the Black Voice News. The 200 organizations were selected from over 2,000 submissions.
Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, second generation publisher of the newspaper, was surprised by the announcement, “We haven’t stopped working since the crisis hit two months ago. We quickly pivoted while working remotely and started reporting quite early on racial disparities in the coronavirus data that we had access to as well as on the lack of adequate data available. The grant will allow our team to build on our current reporting on the economic impact of COVID-19 on our community as well as help build our growing interest in data journalism and digital mapping.”
According to Brown-Hinds, the grant will also enable the team to expedite its digital-first strategy and develop new revenue streams to support the work they do to inform the community.
The grant will support the long term viability of the Black Voice News, putting the outlet on a path toward innovating in research, reporting and audience engagement. As expressed in the grant response, the funded proposal “will align us better with the current publishing environment where news production is data intensive, community focused, and delivered primarily in digital formats, and where news consumption is mobile, digital, and demands creativity and deep analysis.”
The grant will also allow the Black Voice News team to build on its current work with Mapping Black California, a community mapping initiative led by the news team in partnership with Esri, the global leader in GIS technology. It will provide funding for additional data journalism support for the reporting team as well as the development of audience engagement and social media strategies for long term sustainability.
Bergis Jules, Strategic Partnerships and Social Media Strategy for Black Voice News, who successfully stewarded the grant application process on behalf of the team, spoke about the importance of this support to the efforts of minority publications. “Black newspapers have an unprecedented opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic to fill the information gap for African Americans,” he explained adding, “especially because they are being disproportionately impacted by the virus as a result of longstanding racial and economic inequality.”
“Our publication exists during a time when data, digital mapping, and other technologies that can support powerful storytelling, are absolutely necessary to have in a publisher’s toolbox, but the impact of declining ad revenue for the news media coupled with COVID-19 means that we will need help to be able to weather the economic storm and continue innovating,” Jules explained.
When Facebook introduced the grant initiative it acknowledged how the news industry is working under extraordinary conditions to keep people informed during the COVID-19 pandemic: “At a time when journalism is needed more than ever, ad revenues are declining due to the economic impact of the virus. Local journalists are being hit especially hard, even as people turn to them for critical information to keep their friends, families and communities safe.”
With so much need for support in the world of local media there was a lot of interest in the grant program.
“It was a competitive process and we are thrilled we were able to make the case for funding that will now benefit our community and audience,” Bergis shared. “This grant will allow us to expand our reporting resources to more comprehensively cover the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the Black community.”
The Black Voice News and IE Voice, both properties of Voice Media Ventures and published by Brown Publishing Co, are proud to be a beneficiary of Facebook’s commitment to local media. “As a community focused media entity, we look forward to continuing to be a resource not simply contributing to community thought and understanding,” stressed Brown-Hinds, “but to community engagement and action.”
Last month Black Voice News was awarded a smaller Facebook Journalism Project’s Community Network Grant to support its COVID-19 reporting.