Sahan Journal transforms reporting covering immigrants, refugees, and communities of color during COVID-19 and racial justice uprising


By Camryn Allen and Emilie LutostanskiLocal Media Association

Nonprofit news organization Sahan Journal launched in August 2019 with the express purpose of providing journalism “for, by and about” the newest Minnesotans — Latino, Somali and Hmong Minnesotans, as well as many other communities that bring rich cultural heritage and social strength to the state.

“We are an English language publisher,” said Kate Moos, managing director of the Sahan Journal. “But when COVID-19 hit, we felt compelled to make sure that accurate information about the virus how it is transmitted, how to prevent its spread was made available to non-English speakers in those communities.”

Moos

The Minnesota startup utilized the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network Grant to cover COVID-19 and social unrest with broader inclusivity.

“The convergence of these two major stories was revelatory,” Moos said. “Editorially, we had to begin to think of our readers in a new way. That is, we began to see the emergence of a new cross-cultural identification among first- and second-generation immigrants, who became activated and in some cases radicalized by the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. This new generational shift is prompting Sahan Journal to consider rebranding our news organization to be more inclusive of all Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and to expand our mission to serve other communities of Black and other non-majority races as well. This is a large undertaking and will involve collaborating with legacy Black media, seeking community input, and engaging many of our stakeholders.”

In this Q&A, Moos offers insights that can help newsrooms collaborate with multicultural communities to grow revenue and audience and create lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

What were some specific ways this funding has impacted the Sahan Journal?

Translation is expensive and extremely difficult to manage in a breaking news organization. Nonetheless, this grant helped offset translation costs and resulted in increased service to our primary stakeholders, the Hmong, Somali, and Latin communities.

It helped pay for an extremely skillful summer reporter, Ibrahim Hirsi, who explored the complex racial identities of young members of the East African diaspora, and their activism in Black Lives Matter (BLM). And, it helped us invest in our Report for America journalists.

Our unique visitors shot up to over 200,000 in July, an amazing number for us. It’s come down since then but averaged near 100,000 a month. And our email newsletter subscribers tripled.

What kind of innovation or experimentation was brought about by the Facebook funding? How was your community impacted?

Offering breaking news stories in translation into three new languages when we did not have any staff fluent enough to do that work was innovative but logistically very difficult.

Despite the challenges of translation, the Facebook grant has facilitated Sahan Journal’s ability to strengthen lines of reporting deeply important to immigrants during a most difficult time. Readers are being exposed to a world of unique collaborations and coalition-building that many turn a blind eye towards. A reflection of Sahan Journal’s progress is represented in a featured story about young immigrants joining forces with BLM advocates in a way their parents would never have imagined or considered.

In addition to complex translations that allow for coverage in Hmong, Somali, and Spanish, Sahan Journal has also profiled immigrants who are taking the initiative to fight against COVID-19 and its specific effects on different immigrant communities, such as this piece about a Liberian nursing assistant’s perspective on COVID-19 and where we are headed. There are also plenty of stories that connect readers’ demographics, such as this one that covers immigrant workers at a Minnesota Amazon warehouse who are worried about COVID-19 transmission.

What are your hopes for the Sahan Journal and its relationships with the communities being reached through your translation and community engagement?

Sahan Journal aspires to be at the vanguard of the urgent movement to create racial and social equity in our country, without which democracy cannot function. The role of a free and independent press is to make sure our stakeholders have access to stories that reflect their knowledge, their struggles, and their contributions to the larger community. These are people and communities largely left out of legacy media coverage, which lack the resources and the skill set to cover them effectively. Of course, this failure is also driven by the implicit bias and racism of most legacy media organizations and newsrooms. We feel that the representation we offer is an invitation to engage in public life for new Minnesotans.

In Minnesota, the recent election season reflected the strong emergence of immigrants into the state’s political life. In city council and school board races, in the state legislature, and in mayoral elections, a wide diversity of candidates have won office. For example, a recent refugee from Ethiopia, Oballah Oballah, just won election to the mayor’s office of Austin, Minnesota. Austin is a small town in southern Minnesota in a large agricultural area, which is also home to the Hormel meatpacking plant (and the Spam Museum!) Oballah is the town’s first black elected official.

Running for city council or school board is often the starting point for political newcomers. Sahan Journal covered the trend among immigrants in detail.

So we hope that by covering these stories of political power and influence, and by authorizing the stories of immigrants and refugees, we are creating a new narrative, a more accurate narrative, that places these individuals and communities at the center of the story of Minnesota’s public life in cities and towns and school boards and counties across the state.

COVID-19 has made it difficult for us to gather publicly with the communities we serve. And, the life of a startup is crazy busy. We have not succeeded in putting enough energy directly into convening and listening to our stakeholders in listening sessions designed for that purpose. We do hope to improve on this during our second year.

That said, all of our reporters start their work with the idea that the stories they report must come from the communities they cover and are adept at creating connections and listening in real-time.


This is part of a Local Media Association series exploring how local media organizations used funding from Facebook’s COVID-19 relief grants for extending vital coverage and innovating to reach new audiences.

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How 24 local news publishers used Facebook grants to create journalism jobs, expand local reporting and more

U.S. newsrooms share impact of Facebook’s $10 million COVID-19 grants

$5,000 Facebook Journalism Project Community Network Grants fund vital COVID-19 coverage, technology, journalism jobs, and more