The Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service is collaborating with two other nonprofit newsrooms in a special project to learn what residents want to read and then to send those reports to their phones via text messaging.
The News414 project is launching with $234,000 in support from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge. The project is one of only 34 in North America to receive funding.
News414 will draw upon the strengths of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, based at Marquette University with deep roots in the city’s underserved neighborhoods; the Madison-based Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which holds power to account and distributes its content for free to hundreds of news organizations nationwide; and the Detroit-based Outlier Media, which aims to fill information gaps and increase accountability by empowering residents.
The newsrooms will invest $110,000 of their own resources in management and implementation of News414, including reporting and updates of previous reports, plus technology and marketing.
“For many years, coverage of communities has been a one-way street,” said Ron Smith, editor of Neighborhood News Service, which is based at Marquette University. “Now we have bandwidth to ask our audience what they want, and what they want to read from us. Then we will be able to serve them in ways that we could never do before.”
The newsrooms will join forces to use innovative technology and research techniques to discover the information needs of residents, investigate their most pressing issues and to deliver accountability journalism.
News414 seeks to equip residents with information they need to advocate for a better quality of life from their government and elected officials, and to better navigate the existing system.
“News414 is simple, but it offers profound possibilities,” said Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, an independent, nonpartisan news organization. “This is public service journalism that truly serves the public.”
The center will be responsible for overall operations of the project, which includes hiring a project manager and an engagement manager. The job openings will be posted in early November.
Information — both “news you can use” and in-depth pieces exploring the causes of problems plaguing neighborhoods — will be texted directly to residents’ cellphones for free. Subscribers to the texting service will become crucial sources of news tips and on-the-ground information.
Candice Fortman, CEO of Outlier Media, said the collaborative project will bring to Milwaukee the service journalism approach Outlier has used to decrease information gaps and increase accountability in Detroit.
“Providing residents with direct access to high-value, fact-checked data allows newsrooms to redistribute some of their watchdog function and then focus scarce reporting resources on the accountability projects likely to have the most community impact,” Fortman said.
“We also believe in the power of newsroom collaboration. The more opportunities journalists have to work together using shared resources and learning, the stronger our news ecosystems will become.”
HOW TO FOLLOW THE NEWS414 PROJECT
To receive updates as the News414 project takes shape, sign up here and add firstname.lastname@example.org to your address book.