Flint, MI–Wednesday was a good day for Jiquanda Johnson–and for Flint.

Johnson, founder and publisher of Flint Beat, opened her email to find that the news site she founded in in 2017 was the recipient of a six-figure grant from Facebook.

“For our newsroom that means a lot,” Johnson said. “We cover a community that is often forgotten about.”

The $100,000 grant came from Facebook’s COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program, which awarded $16 million to 200 newsrooms. More than 2,000 newsrooms applied. 

The grant will provide some funding to expand COVID coverage in Flint, but also provide additional resources and training for Flint Beat’s staff. The grant provides Flint Beat the ability to partner with the Center for Public Integrity, which for one year will help Flint Beat in data journalism and Freedom of Information Act Requests.

Flint Beat will essentially have a data journalist on staff–someone whose job it is to find and sift through available and important data, and find the important stories contained there.

That’s important, Johnson said, because while reporters are looking at numbers all the time, sometimes it takes an expert to know exactly what to be looking for, and to recognize important patterns and details that might otherwise go unnoticed.

In addition to having a data journalist on staff for a year, Flint Beat’s team will receive training in data journalism so that they can continue to do the same kind of work even after the year-long partnership expires.

Johnson said she’s also excited for her team to get further FOIA training.

FOIA requests can be tricky–knowing exactly what documents to ask for, and how to request them can end up being more like an art than a straightforward process, especially if those processing the requests are reluctant to hand over information.

“I can ask for documents all day long, but am I asking the right questions?” Johnson said. “(This partnership) will better position us to know what to ask for and, when they send it to us, to know what we’re looking for.”

Johnson founded Flint Beat in 2017. A former reporter for The Flint Journal and Flint native, Johnson had long felt that there were gaps in the coverage of the city.

“I got tired of journalism not covering local news and following what’s trending to chase ad dollars,” she said.

Flint Beat is almost entirely funded by grants. For Johnson, that means that her team can focus more on doing good journalism, and not worry about how many people are clicking on stories.

“We don’t have to measure quantity, but rather what it does for this community, and also the industry. We can still focus on creating good, quality, journalism,” she said.

Earlier this year, Flint Beat had also received a $5,000 grant from Facebook. Getting support from a major organization like Facebook, Johnson said, feels particularly good.

“It means a lot, especially when it comes to newsrooms founded by minority people,” she said. “It means a lot to an independent newsroom covering a municipalityof less than 100,000 people, started by a black woman, from Flint.”

Grant recipients were selected through a process led by the Local Media Association (LMA) and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and with significant contributions from the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), Local Media Consortium (LMC), and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role local news plays in our communities, while simultaneously threatening their very existence. Reviewing hundreds of applications on a tight timeline both illustrated the depth of need, but also highlighted the innovation that these small, independent publishers can provide for their communities when given the resources,” said Jonathan Kealing, INN’s chief network officer. “I’m excited to see new news products and more critical original reporting in these communities, thanks to Facebook’s support.”
To find out more about the Facebook Journalism Project or a full list of grant recipients visit their website here.

Scott Atkinson has been reporting on Flint for more than fifteen years. He spent several years as a reporter for The Flint Journal and is the editor of "Happy Anyway: A Flint Anthology," a collection of...