Oklahoma Media Center is providing funds for data-driven projects

More than 50 journalists representing 30 media organizations recently attended a training event with the nationally known nonprofit program Trusting News that the Oklahoma Media Center (OMC) facilitated at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Norman, Oklahoma.

Joy Mayer

Joy Mayer, founder and director of Trusting News, discussed the findings of OMC’s groundbreaking ecosystem engagement study released in September. The scalable project is designed to discover real-world solutions that newsrooms can implement to enhance trust in and financial support of local news. Using a foundation of academic research, the OU graduate suggested best-practices strategies for journalists to improve distribution, listening and storytelling about the value of a free and independent press as a public good for a representative democracy.

Rosemary Avance

For the statewide research, OMC commissioned Dr. Rosemary Avance, assistant professor of media and strategic communications at Oklahoma State University, and Dr. Allyson Shortle, associate professor of political science and co-founder of the University of Oklahoma’s Community Engagement and Experiments Lab. The researchers studied rural and metro counties across the state and listened to learn where local residents get their news, what they consider trustworthy and how easily they are able to stay informed of community happenings.

Allyson Shortle

“We sampled according to what would be an underserved population in terms of the news environment,” said Shortle. “In Oklahoma, that could be a newspaper — there were four counties that lacked a newspaper whatsoever, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy’s academic report “The Expanding News Desert” published in 2018 — but, more realistically, that are several more counties that lack access to a major local news station. So what we did was look at a sample of counties that were both low in access to newspapers as well as TV news.”

OMC is now accepting data-driven proposals from media organizations based on the study’s findings and will award grants from their Ecosystem Engagement Fund. Supported by Inasmuch Foundation, this $100,000 fund will provide financial means for newsrooms to undertake projects that bolster the trust and sustainability of local news. 

Rob Collins

“Our multiphase project mixes the quantitative with the qualitative to move the needle to increase engagement and financial support of local news,” said Rob Collins, executive director of Oklahoma Media Center. “News consumers are leaving the media, and the news industry needs to meet them where they are. We’re using scientific polling and academic research to inform these engagement projects, which will be guided by the Trusting News team.”

Applications will be accepted through Oct. 16, with awards announced Nov. 3. For accepted projects, Trusting News will provide four additional trainings, plus one-on-one coaching, office hours and online support through the end of March 2024, when the projects are due. 

The Ecosystem Engagement Fund is the culmination of previous work OMC has conducted. Avance and Shortle’s study is the second phase of this media ecosystem project and follows an initial round of scientific polling done by Oklahoma City-based firm Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, which surveyed 500 registered voters on their news consumption habits.

Launched in 2020 by Inasmuch and the Local Media Association, OMC’s mission is to support and strengthen Oklahoma’s journalism ecosystem and spur innovation through statewide collaboration that benefits diverse audiences. A nonpartisan nonprofit organization, OMC includes more than 25 news outlets statewide, ranging from broadcast stations and nonprofits to Indigenous and Black-owned outlets to longstanding newspapers.

For more information on the Ecosystem Engagement Fund, email rob@oklahomamediacenter.com.