Over the past 14 months, Pamplin Media Group journalists have been examining how COVID-19 has impacted Oregon students — particularly students of color and those who live in rural communities. Our most recent work appears online at PortlandTribune.com this week in a package we’re calling The Long Division.
At the same time, we’ve been exploring new ways to fund the labor-intensive, data-driven, solutions-focused reporting that’s included in the series.
When the global pandemic rocked the U.S. economy last spring, some large national journalism and philanthropic organizations stepped up to help newsrooms reeling from the sudden loss of advertising revenue. And they’ve continued to support such work as our industry experiments with new funding models that offer both challenges and opportunities.
Pamplin Media Group was one of many news organizations to receive support from Google News. Our $15,000 grant, awarded a year ago, allowed a small group of our education reporters to focus on how Latino students, who historically have struggled academically compared to white students, were handling the first few months of distance-learning forced by the closure of classrooms.
Not long after, our colleagues at Underscore News, a nonprofit Portland news shop, approached us about collaborating on a project looking at how COVID-19 was impacting rural schools across the country. Funded by the Walton Family Foundation and coordinated by the Institute for Nonprofit News, nine newsrooms, including our two in Oregon, produced dozens of in-depth articles about the challenges facing rural schools as they started the current school year. Among the Oregon stories was a profile of a family on the Warm Springs Reservation; an analysis of some early high school data showing students of color were more likely to be failing classes than their white classmates; and a look at how school officials in Gervais, where Latino students make up more than half the student body, were getting creative to shore up low attendance rates.
As those funds were running out, we got a new lifeline, this time from the Local Media Association. Pamplin Media had worked with LMA at the onset of the virus-induced financial freefall to raise more than $40,000 in direct donations from readers, including a Facebook campaign around our education coverage. (It was that campaign that connected us with CareOregon, which will be sponsoring this summer’s high school internship program with a $10,000 grant to amplify the voices of emerging journalists from underrepresented communities). So, when LMA offered the chance for a $5,000 grant for investigative reporting on the impact of COVID-19 on education, we were well-positioned, having obtained but not analyzed preliminary enrollment and attendance data.
We were able to leverage that grant into another opportunity with the Solutions Journalism Project, one of our long-standing collaboration partners. SJN, based in New York, works with newsrooms across the country to help reporters and editors to apply the same tools they use to expose societal problems to examining responses to those problems. For this project, they were offering $5,000 grants for journalists wanting to look at how schools and community organizations were dealing with the many challenges of educating students during a global pandemic. With SJN’s blessing we merged the two grant-funded projects into The Long Division.
Factoring in the grant money we shared with Underscore and our partnership with CareOregon, Pamplin Media Group has received nearly $40,000 over the past 12 months to directly fund our education coverage. That’s certainly not enough money to sustain a newsroom the size of ours, but it can supplement the advertising and subscription revenue and allow us to spotlight an important issue.
And, just as important, it gives us potential path to financial stability.
We already are seeing a significant return of advertising, which remains the key source of funding for media companies like ours. But over the past 14 difficult months, we’ve found that we also can rely on financial support from readers and funders who understand that the kind of journalism we’re offering in our Long Division package is important to anyone who cares about educational equity in Oregon.
We hope that they, and you, view this as a good return on their investments.