The COVID-19 pandemic has made the need for reliable reporting on local public-health information more important than ever – at a time when many local news outlets were already operating with minimum staff and the economic shutdown precipitated an additional huge loss of advertising revenue.
The Charitable Foundation has made three recent grants to support local reporting on the COVID crisis: to the nonprofit Granite State News Collaborative, which shares articles and resources among 17 news outlets reaching a broad statewide audience; to support “¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire?” a new Spanish-language broadcast of COVID-related news, produced in partnership between the Collaborative and New Hampshire Public Radio; and to the nonprofit New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, publisher of InDepthNH.org.
The News Collaborative — which launched in 2018 with support from the Solutions Journalism Network, the Charitable Foundation and the Knight Foundation — had been planning a year-long joint reporting project on economic opportunity and inequity in New Hampshire.
At a meeting in early March, when the number of confirmed cases in New Hampshire was in the single digits, a newspaper editor at a Collaborative member outlet pointed out what was looming: “If this COVID thing breaks loose,” she said, “there is no way we can focus on anything but that.”
Outlets in the collaborative, said Director Melanie Plenda, “We’re hearing directly from communities: ‘We want more information.’ So we said, ‘Okay let’s all help each other. Let’s figure this out.’”
Collaborative members now share scores of COVID-related stories each day, which can be used across all member outlets. Freelance reporters paid by the collaborative produce additional statewide stories, which they can then customize with local information for individual outlets.
As the reality of the economic shutdown hit newsrooms, reporters and editors have taken pay cuts or been furloughed, print editions have been suspended, freelance budgets disappeared. “Overnight, everything dried up, everything stopped,” Plenda said. “But you still have to produce the news during a pandemic. That’s when people need us.”
The Charitable Foundation grant of $32,000 is helping the Collaborative hire and pay recently laid-off New Hampshire journalists as freelancers – and the organization is using it as a challenge grant, working to raise an additional $32,000 in matching funds for local reporting.
“Supporting quality local journalism is more important than ever,” said Sandeep Bikram Shah, a senior program officer at the Charitable Foundation. “Quality, independent journalism is a critical element for a functioning democracy. And now, in the midst of a public health crisis, residents are turning to the media for reliable information to keep them safe. We’re proud to support this work and would encourage residents to support their local news outlets by purchasing subscriptions and by donating to nonprofit news organizations.”
“¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire?” (“What’s New, New Hampshire?”) launches today. A five-minute broadcast in Spanish of important coronavirus-related news will be available each weekday on NHPR’s and the Collaborative’s websites and via WhatsApp. The program is produced in partnership between the Granite State News Collaborative and New Hampshire Public Radio, and voiced by NHPR’s Daniela Allee.
The service is filling a much-needed void for the state’s Spanish-speaking community — the largest linguistic and ethnic minority in New Hampshire — at a time when accurate and timely information is essential to public health.
“We do not have any kind of media in Spanish here in the state — there is absolutely nothing,” said Eva Castillo, director of Welcoming New Hampshire, who is helping to advise the project. “Usually, when we want to reach the Latino community, we have to go to churches, barbershops, bodegas and other places where people congregate. I am so excited — you have no clue how happy I am this is happening.”
The service will include links to other Spanish-language resources — like the CDCs pages in Spanish.
“As the Granite State continues to confront the coronavirus pandemic, this new service extends our commitment to reach new audiences and serve as a vital community resource for news and information,” said Jim Schachter, President & CEO of NHPR. “We were able to mobilize our resources in news gathering and translation to work quickly with our partners at the Granite State News Collaborative to bring the newscast from idea to reality in a short time for an underserved audience.”
“¿Qué Hay de Nuevo, New Hampshire?” can be heard via the text and messaging platform WhatsApp (sign up here to subscribe), and online at nhpr.org/noticias. Beginning May 4, it will also be available on the Granite State News Collaborative website, collaborativenh.org/noticias.
The Collaborative is embarking on a broader initiative, Connecting New Hampshire, to provide Spanish-language resources across other outlets, including Manchester InkLink and New Hampshire PBS, that will be available to all Collaborative member outlets for use, with the goal of eventually including additional languages.
Grant funding is also supporting New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism as it reports on the pandemic through the daily online news outlet InDepthNH.org, and makes content available to other media outlets.
“COVID-19 struck when the press is at its weakest and people need free, trusted news the most,” said InDepthNH executive editor Nancy West. She said that readership on InDepthNH.org has increased more than four-fold in the last six weeks, indicating that “people are hungry to be well-informed so they can protect themselves and their families and figure out a path toward a new normal.”