Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media
In an effort to help ensure a steady flow of credible and consistent coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), along with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the Local Media Association (LMA), extended their Community Network Grant Program to 400 local news organizations nationwide, totaling $2 million in aid.
Of that total, $160,000 went to 32 publications in California, including Black Voice, L.A. Focus Newspaper, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, Westside Story Newspaper and California Black Media.
“We do something called the Community Network Grant Program several times a year,” said Josh Mabry, Facebook’s Local News Partnership Lead.
“As the COVID-19 situation started picking up speed and it became obvious that there was a traumatic impact on the economy broadly but also on local news providers, we thought we should open up the grant program as quickly as we can and get some money out to folks to address some of those critical needs,” Mabry said.
Lisa Collins, who is African American, is the publisher of the LA Focus newspaper and the producer of The First Ladies High Tea, an annual event held at the Beverly Hills Hilton that honors women.
Facebook awarded her publication a $5000 grant.
“I’m so happy to have received the Local Media Foundation Grant,” Collins said.
“It has helped to support our ongoing attempts to keep the community informed about COVID-19 as we scramble to streamline our organization’s budget, reset priorities and adjust our strategy,” she added.
Not only does the grant financially assist local news outlets, it also intends to assuage some of the unexpected hardships of the current crisis.
“It may be something as simple as you don’t normally work from home and you’re working from home now but you don’t have a reliable connection. That’s some of the kinds of requests we’ve had coming in and that’s an unforeseen cost no one was thinking about,” Mabry said.
With businesses and other organizations suffering from sweeping financial losses, many companies have been asking for loans and grants to stay afloat. Before Facebook’s grant pool was doubled, more than 200 publications nationwide applied for the program in the first two days after the organization opened up the application process.
Very quickly it became obvious that the need was significant so we doubled our grant pool to $2 million,” said Mabry.
“We announced that there were 400 total grant recipients from the Community Network COVID-19 fund. We also announced last week that, in large part because of the interest in this program, that we’re making a larger investment to the tune of $100 million globally and $25 million in the US, specifically for local news.”
Some of this larger fund will also be going to fact checking organizations worldwide as Mabry expressed concerns about misinformation surrounding this pandemic.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, African Americans in much of the country are dying at a disproportionately high rate from COVID-19
Jahmil Lacey, founder of TrapMedicine in South Central Los Angeles, said in an interview with NPR that misinformation might play a large factor in the high African-American death toll.
“When the pandemic first started, there were a lot of rumblings around, like this being a hoax. I’ve heard stories about people believing that, you know, Black people were immune to coronavirus,” Lacey said.
The FJP takes credibility seriously and it is one of the main deciding factors in who received grants.
“We work with partners in the industry to review applicants as they come in and help us determine who are the credible sources of news and information and most importantly those local sources of news and information. That’s really who we’ve been trying to help with this funding,” Mabry said.
Mabry also detailed the selection process for applicants.
“We worked with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the LMA in our grant application selection process,” Mabry said. “Everyone had to submit what they would use the money for, the kinds of communities that they cover, how this funding was going to help extend their work or just maintain the work around COVID-19 with the goal of ensuring that local news organizations had access to resources to keep telling stories at the local level.”
And as for why Facebook is so adamant on helping support local news organizations during this crisis, Mabry stressed the importance of the proximity to relevant and accurate information.
“We all know what’s going on — on the national level, but when it comes to protecting your families and loved ones, your local communities are the first place to look,” Mabry said. “There is no other place to get information about your community than from the people in your community reporting on it.”