The Commercial Dispatch has been approved for $80,200 in grant funds from the Facebook Journalism Project to bolster its news gathering efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the social media corporation announced this morning.
The Dispatch will be one of 144 local newsrooms in the U.S., and one of three in Mississippi, to receive Local News Relief Funds from Facebook. The Local Media Association and Lenfest Institute for Journalism led the process to vet more than 2,000 grant applications, and nearly 80 percent of recipients are family- or independently-owned news operations. More than half the recipients are publications by or for communities of color.
Grants ranged from $25,000 to $100,000.
“We are extremely appreciative to the Facebook Journalism Project and their partners, The Local Media Association and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism for their focus on independently-owned news rooms,” said Peter Imes, publisher for The Dispatch. “This grant will allow us to tackle multiple large projects that will help modernize our digital efforts and better inform our readers.”
With the funds, Imes said, The Dispatch will focus news gathering efforts for the COVID-19 crisis, develop and implement a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the newspaper’s work and replace the current website with a more modern, mobile-friendly site.
“While our newsroom has done an exceptional job reporting COVID’s effects on our community, there are three focus areas we feel will further establish our credibility as a regional news organization and respond to our readership’s specific needs,” Imes wrote in the grant application. “The first is COVID’s disproportionate impact on African Americans, who make up more than 40 percent of our coverage area’s population. Secondly, we intend to analyze the ways in which businesses are adapting during COVID: their successes, failures and lessons learned. This reporting will also chronicle the ever-changing working conditions and opportunities for employees across our readership’s diverse workforce.
“And lastly, we will … visually document the ways in which COVID is affecting our coverage area,” he wrote. “These images will accompany our journalists’ stories and stand alone in print and digital photo galleries.”
The Dispatch will support this journalism with a new regional multi-media marketing campaign, Imes said. The goal is to raise awareness of the newspaper’s work and build on the net increase in print and digital subscriptions The Dispatch has seen since early March, he said.
The website upgrade is the final piece of the plan, according to Imes, with a portion of the grant funding earmarked for hiring a consultant to plan and launch a new site that will better serve readers, more than half of whom use mobile devices to access The Dispatch.
Dispatch employee Lindsey Beck assisted in writing the grant application.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.