The nonprofit Oklahoma Media Center (OMC) is awarding more than $100,000 in grants to a dozen Oklahoma news organizations in an Ecosystem Engagement Fund cohort to implement data-driven projects designed to bolster the trust and sustainability of local news.
OMC collaborators have been awarded grants to complete the following projects:
- The Enid News & Eagle, cultivating community resources to spread news via social media and local contributors providing targeted content, communicating the newspaper’s value, employing a project manager to reach various ethnic and socioeconomic groups for information and training and implementing a plan for providing local content for publication.
- The Frontier, implementing community partnerships, including local libraries and a local bookstore, to host legislative forums to help the nonprofit newsroom connect with an expanded audience and the launching of a new SMS (Short Messaging Service) club.
- KGOU/Oklahoma Watch, scheduling and implementation of a series of community listening events to gain feedback about needs in those communities and to educate participants about the importance and practices of journalism at multiple listening sessions.
- KOSU, creating a community advisory board to better inform coverage of Oklahoma’s diverse communities and feature members from diverse backgrounds to serve as a bridge between the communities KOSU serves and the newsroom.
- The Lawton Constitution, conducting a readership survey in mid-January by hiring students to conduct research and tabulate the results and then adjust newsroom coverage based on the findings.
- NonDoc, launching the new News Ambassadors program in early 2024 as an effort to rebuild trust in local news by connecting more people in more communities with key coverage of the Oklahoma State Capitol and other civic matters.
- The Oklahoma Press Association, selecting two newspapers and measuring, tabulating and categorizing news coverage of the previous year, surveying readers to gather feedback on desired news coverage and developing a news coverage improvement plan for the coming year. Then regularly monitoring, tabulating and reporting to selected newspapers on progress toward news coverage plan.
- The Oklahoma Eagle, polling to determine readership, engaging in social media, launching an SMS service to correspond directly with readers, participating more actively in community conversations, providing free copies to Black churches and other outlets and partnering with some community groups and individual influencers.
- The Oklahoman, using its rebranded opinion section, now called Viewpoints, to amplify community voices in Oklahoma’s historic all-Black towns and drive conversations that prompt better outcomes for residents, listening to the concerns of the target audience and sharing their stories in written commentary, video and audio clips.
- The OU Daily, expanding the engagement desk, analyzing source diversity while transforming social media strategies, hosting local listening sessions to build on readership survey data, conducting scientific polling and bringing those discoveries to their audience, updating staff bios to include personal mission statements and leaning heavily into OU’s Giving Day.
- VNN (Verified News Network), creating and testing a Citizen Journalism Program developed specifically for underserved communities.
The grantees will work with Trusting News led by Director Joy Mayer on completing their projects. The nationally known nonprofit program will provide four specially designed online training sessions over the coming months, plus one-on-one coaching, office hours and additional support through the end of March 2024, when the impact of projects will be reported to OMC.
“I’m excited by the chance to help newsrooms act on the research OMC has invested in,” Mayer said. “The newsrooms’ projects are ambitious and important, and they have the potential to make a real difference in the relationships these journalists have with the communities they aim to serve.”
Supported by Inasmuch Foundation, the Ecosystem Engagement Fund is the culmination of the OMC’s collaborative research supported by the Oklahoma City-based Kirkpatrick Foundation. OMC contracted Rosemary Avance, assistant professor of media and strategic communications at Oklahoma State University, and associate professor Allyson Shortle, director of graduate studies in political science and co-founder of the University of Oklahoma’s Community Engagement and Experiments Lab. In September, the academic researchers released a study of underserved rural and metro counties in Oklahoma to learn where local residents got their news, what they considered trustworthy and how easily they could stay informed of community happenings. Their on-the-ground research 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.
“We will share our findings far and wide, as we believe this project is replicable in other states,” said Rob Collins, executive director of Oklahoma Media Center. “Locally, we’re looking for funding partners to collaborate and further support each OMC member’s civic-minded engagement. The goal is to bring Oklahomans together through decency for democracy.”
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 501(c)(3), the statewide collaborative includes more than 25 Oklahoma news outlets, ranging from broadcast stations and nonprofits to Indigenous and Black-owned outlets to longstanding newspapers.
For more information, email Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.