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COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund aids over 200 newsrooms nationwide

By Miriam Raftery

East County Magazine has been selected to receive $100,000 through the Facebook Journalism Project COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program.  Facebook announced that more than 200 news organizations will receive nearly $16 million in grants through the program as part of Facebook’s $100 million global investment in news.

Read more about our grant project here.  View an index of our grant works to date, organized by topic. 


This special section highlights our reporting projects funded by the grant. Scroll down to view the many articles and other projects on COVID-19, crisis reporting, and community journalism created through the generosity of our #FacebookJournalismGrant.

“We are deeply grateful to the Facebook Journalism Project for recognizing the importance of local news reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of the award-winning East County Magazine (ECM). “At a time when news publications across the nation are facing extreme challenges, the need for local news reporting in the public interest has never been greater.”

Read about the award-winning team of journalists we've assembled for our Facebook Journalism Project report. Scroll down for our exclusive interview with Facebook's Local News Partnership Lead, Josh Mabry, and for details on our grant project.

The grant enables ECM to provide in-depth coverage of the pandemic’s impacts on local communities and those most vulnerable including small businesses, farmers and rural communities, immigrants and refugees, Native Americans, African-Americans and other minorities, seniors and students.  Funds will also help identify needs across San Diego’s inland region related to COVID-19 and the quarantine/shut-down as well as sharing any innovative solutions helping others.  

In addition, grant funds will be utilized for technology and training to host virtual community events ranging from COVID-19 town halls to candidate forums at a time when live debates are not being held, with events to be live-streamed plus audio and video posted online for listening or viewing on demand. 

The grant will also enable expansion and updates of our COVID-19 local resource center and expanded directories of local restaurants and farms open during the pandemic. Other uses of grant funds include equipment for essential workers to report remotely with social distancing, community outreach and marketing through social media and search engines, emergency relief for impacted freelancers with financial or medical emergencies due to COVID-19, critical overhead including webmaster and insurance, and reporting on wildfires or other emergencies during quarantine, when residents most need timely news.

ECM is among four San Diego County-based publishers receiving Facebook COVID-19 Local News Relief Grant Program funds. Others are Voice of San Diego, Village News Inc. in Fallbrook and Embarcadero Media, a La Mesa-based publisher of several publications in other California communities.

Facebook’s COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program supports many publishers hardest hit by the crisis. Nearly 80 percent of recipients are family- or independently-owned and over half are published by or for communities of color. $5.4 million was awarded to 59 North American newsrooms that participated in a Facebook Local News Accelerator program focused on growing subscriptions and memberships.  Remaining funds will be used throughout 2020 to support projects focused on longer-term sustainability in local journalism, including $2.5 million for Report for America, which will help place 225 journalists in 160 local news organizations for their 2020 reporting corps.

Partnering with leading industry organizations like The Local Media Association and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism to move quickly, the Facebook Journalism Project has awarded more than 600 grants across the US and Canada since the pandemic began. Additional grant programs have been launched to support journalism around the world.

More than 2,000 applications were received for the COVID-19 Local News Relief Grant Program from newsrooms across every state in the US. These 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)..

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, dozens of newsrooms across the U.S. have shut down, laid off or furloughed reporters and other workers, the Poynter Institute reported.

“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.”

In an exclusive interview, ECM’s editor spoke with Josh Mabry, Facebook’s Local News Partnership Lead.

“You’re among those out there on the front lines,” he said, adding, “Thank you for the work you are doing.”

Asked what factors made Facebook choose journalism as a cause to support, he replied, “We’ve been really focused on supporting and ultimately partnering with the news industry over the last three and a half years, since Facebook Journalism Project got started.” The initiative focused on “tools that help you build better communication and build a business.”

Facebook itself has emerged as a major source of information around the world. But Mabry notes, “There’s a lot of things that don’t happen on Facebook.”  With news organizations struggling to compete in an increasingly online world in recent years, Facebook initially focused on a grant program with a much slower process, fewer recipients and targeted projects.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.  “Given the moment, it’s obvious there are a lot of publishers in  critical need,” as well as readers who critically need accurate information, he added.  “You are in a position to help keep us safe right now.”  While national newspapers are important, local and hyper-local newspapers and online sites are also vital, he observed.  “What I really care about is how this will affect me at home, how this will affect the school my kids go to to…That’s why we said `We need to do this.’”

The grants aim to help newsrooms both do critical reporting during the emergency, but also build communities over the long term.  Recipients ranged from big newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle to rural publishers and publications serving diverse populations. Mabry calls the response “overwhelming” from a diverse group of more than 2,000 applicants. 

The grant applications identified some unique needs such rural areas where reporters lacked high speed internet to work from home, kids without internet while schools are closed, and more.  Facebook hopes grant recipients will help “document the impacts to learn what works and just as importantly, what didn’t work and share that out with the industry…so we will be better positioned in the long run,” he concludes.

Mabry spent 12 years in local television news before joining Facebook. Asked his advice to newsrooms today, he said that building a relationship with the newsroom’s audience is important, whether through a newsletter, Facebook posts, or other means. He also advises publishers to be “very transparent with your audience and showcase the value of your reporting…that really matters. You can see in the numbers that people are reading local news more and more.” While asking for subscription fees or donations to nonprofits can be daunting, he says, “I think there is a way to approach this with great humility and tell your story. Let them know what you’re going through, and ask them for support because we al know it’s very important.”

He praised East County Magazine’s application for focusing on trying to do more projects remotely including “online meetings and webinars to grow your audience,” something he says many are experimenting with. “That’s critical, whether or not there is a pandemic in the long run.”

He adds, “Thank you for the work that you are doing. This program is ultimately not about Facebook. It’s about you and the communities that you serve when they need it most. We’re grateful to be a small part of that,” Mabry concludes. “We hope to be able to share with our publishers and ultimately help others.”

East County Magazine’s online news site at https://www.EastCountyMagazine.org has won 116 major journalism awards since its inception in 2008. Published by the nonprofit 501c3 Heartland Coalition, ECM also produces the East County Wildfire and Emergency alerts and the East County Magazine Radio Show on KNSJ 89.1 FM.

 ECM’s mission is to provide in-depth news, views and events coverage for the inland areas in San Diego County, reflecting the broad diversity of people and issues in our region, particularly those under-represented in other media. As nonprofit media, ECM reflects the public interest—not special interests. You can sign up for free subscriptions to ECM’s weekly newsletter, as well as the East County Wildfire and Emergency Alerts underwritten by the Grossmont Healthcare District, at https://www.EastCountyMagazine.org.

Learn more about the Facebook Journalism Project:




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good job

Would like to see more coverage of Santee.


I am glad to see that Native Americans and African Americans are among the largely overlooked groups that you serve and that they are included in your target populations. Again, congratulations and best wishes on receiving such a prestigious grant that will further your journalism efforts.

Re "No strings attached"

Even though Facebook, You Tube and Twitter are all guilty of manipulating content and censuring opinions and comments that don't fit within their agenda ( I have personally experienced it), I'm glad you are not beholding to their criteria. Thank you for clarifying that, Miriam. Keep up the good work. Stay well. Charley B. Lakeside,ca


As much as I don't wish to see your great magazine in any way tied into the slimy, deceitful individual who runs Facebook, for once he isn't stealing something from all those who insist on handing him their privacy. Yes, take the money and run. Congratulations! I hope there are no stipulations attached.

There are no strings attached.

In fact the grant specifies that Facebook recognizes that news outside of Facebook and social media is important on its own merits. There is no requirement to use their platforms.  The only requirement is that grant funds be used for the projects we described in our grant application

While we did not specify any particular mediums to use, our hope is to put some of our virtual town halls and meetings onto multiple social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook Watch, and Twitter at minimum since these are all broadly viewed by the public. We will also post links to many of our stories on Facebook and Twitter, as we have long done before this grant, to broaden the number of readers who can access important news stories.

East County Magazine has never promised a hands-off approach to any sponsor or grantor.  We have accepted SDG&E funds in the past to support our wildfire alerts, but continued to report on issues involving SDG&E such as controversies over rate hikes and power outages, for example.  We once turned down money from a sponsor who sought to infuence reporting content. 

We are, however, grateful to Facebook for recognizing the value of local journalism and helping not only our media outlet, but hundreds of newsrooms across the nation to improve the depth and quality of reporting and sustain local media outlets even before the pandemic, and more so now

congratulations, well deserved

It is also nice to see Facebook, responsible for spreading so much disinformation, make up for it a little by peeling off a little of their walking around money to support real journalism.