News-by-text: Three nonprofit newsrooms receive Google support for News414 project to engage residents of low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods

Residents of low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods will be asked what they wish a journalist would investigate — and three nonprofit newsrooms will team up to dig into issues that residents want to know more about. Those reports will be sent to residents’ phones via text messaging, leaders of a new project announced today.

The News414 project is launching with $234,000 in support from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, which today announced the first 34 North American recipients of funding. 

Natalie Yahr reports on a Wisconsin Watch story about immigration and deportation in Milwaukee on February 8, 2019.

News414 is a collaborative project that will draw upon the strengths of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, based at Marquette University with deep roots in the city’s underserved neighborhoods; the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which holds power to account and distributes its content for free to hundreds of news organizations nationwide; and 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 of the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, investigate their most pressing issues and deliver accountability journalism to the residents, as well as the broader public and policymakers across the nation.

To receive updates as the News414 project takes shape, sign up here and add news414@wisconsinwatch.org to your address book.

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 is 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 low-income neighborhoods — will be texted directly to residents’ cell phones 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, which is based in Detroit, said that 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.”

About the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service:

The nonprofit Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service covers the people and the issues that affect the city’s communities of color.  Through evidence-based reporting, NNS intentionally celebrates ordinary people who do extraordinary things but also serves as a fierce watchdog for neighborhoods that often go uncovered by other media. Housed in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, NNS employs a mix of paid professionals, community members and interns from schools across Milwaukee to deliver a daily news multimedia report.

About the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism increases the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative reporting in Wisconsin, while training current and future generations of investigative journalists. Its work fosters an informed citizenry and strengthens democracy. The Center is guided by its values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions. Wisconsin Watch, the Center’s news outlet, collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication, and news organizations in Wisconsin and across the nation.

About Outlier Media

Outlier Media is a Detroit-based service journalism organization. Outlier identifies, reports, and delivers valuable information to empower residents to hold municipal government, elected officials, and other power structures accountable for long-standing problems. By keeping residents first, Outlier hopes to give more than it takes and leave people with the information they need to create change in their communities.

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