Facebook grant recipients stress importance of listening to community, reaching new audiences during COVID-19


By Emilie Lutostanski Local News Resource Center at LMA

A dynamic panel of local newsroom leaders expressed the importance of listening to the community and reaching new and diverse audiences during a webinar with Local Media Association and the Facebook Journalism Project at the Online News Association’s ONA20 conference.

Following the onset of COVID-19, Local Media Association worked closely with the Facebook Journalism Project and several other industry organizations to judge applications and distribute grants from the Facebook Journalism Project, including an initial $2 million in emergency relief grants to 400 newsrooms in April, and another $10.3 million to 144 local U.S. newsrooms in May through the COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program.

Three key lessons emerged from the spotlighted Facebook grant-funded projects to expand and improve news coverage for specific communities and grow diverse audiences.

  • Anticipate the news needs in the local community.
  • Ask the community what concerns them and truly listen.
  • Leverage news partnerships and technologies to grow audience.

Anticipate the news needs in the local community

Raftery

“It’s important to anticipate what your local community’s needs are, find the stories that aren’t being told, and tell them,” said Miriam Raftery, publisher of East County Magazine, a nonprofit news outlet that provides in-depth news, views, and events coverage for the inland areas in San Diego County.

The grant supported East County Magazine’s continued investigative reporting, which led to changes in local regulations that benefitted local businesses and nonprofit organizations through relief opportunities.

“Now is not the time to be cutting back on news coverage. Instead, have the courage to tell the stories your readers need to know. And you’ll reap the rewards through more readership, donors, sponsors, and awards — those things that help your future.”

Ask the community what concerns them and truly listen

Record-Journal in Connecticut used grant funding in a three-part listening initiative to better serve its audience and community. They reached out to 40 local nonprofits and asked how to provide better news coverage about underserved communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Record-Journal then provided the nonprofits free print, digital and social marketing campaigns and purchased Hearken, a listening and engagement technology platform, to get community feedback that informs coverage on relevant topics, specifically focusing on underserved communities.

White

Publisher Liz White said the way they reached out to local leaders and truly listened is something that all publishers can do.

“Find out how you can help them. Find out what they think you should be covering,” she said. “This will lead to new opportunities, new ideas, more engagement, more revenue, and better community partnerships, which will help them and help your long-term future as well.”

Leverage news partnerships and technologies to grow audience

Reaching new audiences with the grant funding was a vital goal for nonprofit Charlottesville Tomorrow, whose project involved a partnership with a local Black-owned media organization, Vinegar Hill Magazine, to produce a six-part series on the social determinants of health as a framework around how COVID-19 was affecting historical Black and African American communities in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville Tomorrow used the Facebook lead generation tools to target an audience for both Vinegar Hill Magazine and its newsletter, growing that list 4.5%, and has retained nearly all of the new subscribers.

Hood

“The partnerships in this project were the strong point and kind of a differentiation in that we knew we’re sharing audience with them, and they were sharing audience with us,” Hood said. “We also partnered with a local artist who did the artwork for the series, and that reached a different community than we had been able to reach before.”

The New York Amsterdam News used $5,000 from the Facebook Journalism Project’s Community Network grants to engage with untapped audiences via targeted email marketing, offering valuable information about COVID-19 and other local community news. Partnering with Site Impact resulted in 946 new email newsletter subscribers and more than 200 newspaper subscribers.

Howell

“To partner with a vendor was huge because it isn’t something that normally we’d ever be able to do,” said Penda Howell, vice president of sales, advertising and partnerships for New York Amsterdam News. “That was key: not to be afraid to partner with the vendors, and more often than not, the investment with the vendor will pay off in engagement, subscriber retention, and enhanced brand awareness.”

Despite the struggle of reporting on a historical crisis while facing the pandemic’s economic challenges, grant recipients found new ways to connect with their audiences, offered valuable context and information to their communities, and invested in new capabilities, staff, and practices that will help sustain their local journalism.


Watch the event here and look for more in this series highlighting local newsrooms that are innovating and diversifying reporting using grants from the Facebook Journalism Project.