The American Journalism Project has jointly awarded the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism $1.4 million over three years to support their efforts to reshape the local news ecosystem in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin.
The grant will build revenue and operations teams at both nonprofit newsrooms to support the expansion of journalism that represents, informs and engages local communities. It will also strengthen the newsrooms’ already close partnership, which last year involved launching News414 — a project that uses text messages, social media, events and other tools to provide critical information to underserved audiences.
NNS, a project of the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, is celebrating 10 years of serving Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods this year. The university offers in-kind services such as office space, helps with fund-raising and pays the salary of the NNS editor, who serves on the faculty. But the money to pay for NNS’ professional staff of six part-time editors and reporters as well as the newsroom’s two full-time Report For America reporters comes from individual donors and the support of Milwaukee’s philanthropic community.
“This transformational gift will allow our newsrooms the breathing room needed to focus on creating a strong business infrastructure to sustain and support the great journalism we produce,” said Ron Smith, the editor and project director for NNS. “We are grateful to earn the trust of a national organization that cares about serving communities of color and preserving local journalism. This will take NNS and Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to the next level.”
The grant will fund an NNS staffer fully dedicated to bringing in new streams of revenue—a first for the newsroom—and it will support a full-time News414 project director. The grant will also support salaries at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom based in Madison that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues. The positions include an audience growth director, grants manager, operations administrator and development assistant who also will do some work for NNS.
“This is a giant boost for journalism that matters in Wisconsin,” said Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and its news outlet, Wisconsin Watch. “This rare investment underscores the value in collaboration, and we believe other newsrooms across our state and country can replicate our approach and ensure that even more communities get the vital information they need at a time when newsrooms are shrinking.”
The American Journalism Project, or AJP, is a national venture philanthropy fund and will work closely with the center and NNS to support their joint goal: To build a replicable model of journalism that plugs information and accountability gaps resulting from Wisconsin’s broken systems and staggering racial inequity — engaging residents in identifying problems and exploring solutions.
The newsrooms aim to build upon their success and lessons learned through News414.
Using a model pioneered by Detroit’s Outlier Media, News414 serves residents in Black-and Latino-majority Milwaukee ZIP codes, where research and surveys show wide information gaps.
The project invites residents to shape coverage by engaging them before stories are published. Text messages, social media and in-person engagement connect residents directly with reporters who answer questions about housing, food access, jobs, health and other information residents say they need. News414’s texting tool has delivered information to more than 2,400 people since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
“El Paso Matters, Mountain State Spotlight, Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service are part of a new generation of organizations that is leading us to reimagine local news in service of communities,” said Sarabeth Berman, CEO of AJP. “El Paso Matters is doing vital reporting on a region with national and international importance, but with a nuanced local lens for a local audience. The remarkable partnership between Wisconsin Watch and Neighborhood News Service is demonstrating how accountability reporting and community news work together to deliver crucial information to residents, and Mountain State Spotlight is making sure that West Virginians have the reporting they need to shape the future of their state.”