Neighborhood News Service Launches Fund Drive
The unique, five-year old publication covering local neighborhoods seeks donations.
As the economic model for newspapers and other media outlets gets more challenging, non-profit publications are emerging to help pick up the slack. One such example of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, based in Madison. Another is Milwaukee’s Neighborhood News Service (NNS), the award winning online publication that covers lower income neighborhoods in the city, including five on the South Side, five on the North Side, four on the West Side and three on the northwest side. It’s a big chunk of territory.
Founded in 2011 as part of the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative, NNS is a project of United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee (UNCOM), and has gotten funding from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Argosy Foundation and Northwestern Mutual Foundation. This month the publication has launched its first public funding drive, seeking donations from readers, community members and businesses.
Since its founding, NNS has been led by its editor-in-chief Sharon McGowan, a media veteran with long experience as a reporter, writer, editor and teacher. She has a master’s degree from Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and started her career as an investigative reporter and managing editor of The Chicago Reporter, a monthly publication covering race relations and poverty issues. She later was managing editor/assistant news director at all-news WBBM-AM, and then assignment manager for WBBM-TV, both CBS stations in Chicago. She is currently a faculty member at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication, which has helped fund and partnered with NNS, providing journalism majors who intern with the publication.
The “Neighborhood” part of the publication’s name is a key point of emphasis. News stories by NNS often have a grass-roots, on-the-street feeling; when writing about neighborhood developments the opinions of residents are not ignored. The publication covers such topics as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing, and there’s never a shortage of stories to cover. “The low income minority neighborhoods have a lot going on,” McGowan says.
She’s particularly proud of some of its special reports, like a story on human trafficking in Milwaukee, which drew praise from journalists and community leaders for its comprehensive treatment of the subject. Another strong, in-depth series was a special report on the Milwaukee Municipal Court, by Brendan O’Brien, which documented how the courts disproportionately penalize the city’s poorest residents and favor those who can afford experienced counsel. He found that residents of the city’s two poorest ZIP codes (53204 and 53206) were far more likely than city residents overall to be cited for a nonviolent local violation. And reporter Edgar Mendez did a story on unequal enforcement of marijuana laws, which found that that minority males in particular suffer harsh consequences from strict, often uneven enforcement of existing laws.
Yet for people living in the city’s neighborhoods, it may be the micro-local stories by NNS that are most appreciated: covering problems or improvements in parks, opening of new stores, changes at social service agencies, developments at local schools or profiles of grass-roots leaders.
“I feel we provide high quality reporting,” McGowan says.
Others clearly agree. NNS has won several journalism awards from the state-wide Milwaukee Press Club and garnered the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), regional Edward R. Murrow award in 2012. The publication’s impact can also be seen by the other publications in town that run its stories: NNS stories are also published by Urban Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and OnMilwaukee.com.
NNS has accomplished all this with a small staff: McGowan works with six part-time professional staff members, supplemented by graduate student Public Policy Forum Fellows and undergraduate journalism, social media and photography interns.
NNS has also allowed the community to interact with the news site by allowing them to submit opinion articles as well as their own news stories to be published on the webpage.
With one million page views, 1,300 stories and a five-year anniversary already under its belt, NNS is now looking to achieve another goal: get the support of at least 100 contributors in honor of their five-year anniversary.
“High quality journalism costs money,” McGowan says. “We are a nonprofit news organization and to continue, we need contributions.”
Milwaukee has been called a city of neighborhoods, and while many are making improvements, it helps to have someone explaining and dramatizing these neighborhoods’ challenges and opportunities. “If we didn’t write these stories nobody would,” McGowan says.
And McGowan and her staff are passionately committed to that task.
“There are still a lot of stories left to tell,” she says.
You can make a donation here.