If you or someone you know need information to help you get through the coronavirus crisis, you can now text MILWAUKEE to 73224 to use a new service called News414.
The free texting service offers essential information such as where to find food near you and what rights you have as a tenant during the pandemic. And if you have questions or want to share information with us, News414 will connect you with a reporter who will try to track down the information you want.
Journalists from Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and the statewide investigative newsroom Wisconsin Watch are working together on the News414 project. Outlier Media, a texting news service in Detroit that pioneered this model, is helping the News414 team launch the service, which is partly funded by the Google News Initiative.
The goal is to listen to residents’ needs and deliver accurate information to Milwaukee neighborhoods in creative and accessible ways, starting with SMS texting.
“I think it is going to address some of the needs we have by increasing people’s capacity to get relevant information in real time,” said Jeff Roman, project manager for News414.
The News414 service currently focuses on five issue areas: food access, housing, health and safety, jobs and money, and mental health and domestic violence.
“I’ve been telling people that it’s not just accessing information, it’s getting support to navigate information if you don’t understand it,” Roman said. “It’s not just a list of resources or an article. There is a reciprocal relationship people can develop to help them understand and navigate life.”
Roman has a strong track record of organizing and mobilizing community organizations in Milwaukee. He is leading the project with fellow Milwaukee native Jimmy Gutierrez, a veteran public affairs journalist and former firefighter, who will serve as News 414’s community engagement manager.
“I’m thrilled that News414 is being led by sons of Milwaukee who know and love our communities,” said Ron Smith, editor of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. “We are excited to get things moving so we can feed the information needs of residents.”
Since the service launched this month, Roman and Gutierrez have gotten the word out by connecting with groups already working in Milwaukee’s North and South Side neighborhoods.
“We’ve already heard back from people that are now interacting with our texting service,” Gutierrez said.
Someone texted the service on Wednesday looking for information about unemployment and disability benefits following an accident, Gutierrez said. The person also worried about eviction and wondered where someone with no income right now could find food.
“They went through our service, and they found a food bank near them using our database powered by a partnership with Hunger Task Force, and information about evictions from an expert at Community Advocates,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez then followed up over the phone, making sure the person had the information they needed — including who someone could call to check their eligibility for disability benefits.
“That person being able to directly interact with a reporter about the more nuanced questions they had — it kind of flexed the muscles of what the service can do and what it can be,” Gutierrez said.
Aside from its texting service, News414 plans to also publish online investigative news stories to amplify issues Milwaukee residents say are most important. The stories will also explore solutions to problems and hold people in power accountable when they fall short.
People who interact with the texting service may offer key tips that lead to these stories.
“I often talk about things that are in the air and things that are on the ground, and the way that things are often talked about in the news feels like it stays in the air,” Roman said. “News414 can connect the people who are creating news to people on the ground, so that what is being reported is really representative of the community and is coming from the ground up.”
Gutierrez said he hopes a service like News414 will shift the way journalists work in Milwaukee.
“I hope News414 can be a guide for what community-centered journalism can look like,” he said. “Instead of editors deciding what a story should be and telling reporters, this model allows residents to really direct our reporting.”
If you have ideas for how to help News414 best serve Milwaukee and get people the information needed to navigate systems and create positive change, the team would love to hear from you.
So how does News414 work?
News414 sends free, personalized data via SMS texting, standard text messaging, to Milwaukee residents. The text snapshot below shows what an early interaction between News414 and a resident looks like from the newsroom’s end. If you want to try it yourself, text the word MILWAUKEE, MKE or NEWS414 to 73224. Message and data rates may apply. As a subscriber, you may receive up to four messages a month, or more depending on the information you share or request. Reply HELP for help or STOP to cancel at any time. Privacy and Terms can be found here.