Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service receives $350,000 in funding for operations; also announces initiative to grow endowment

The Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS), a nonprofit newsroom and project of the Diederich College of Communication, has received $350,000 in new funding and has announced plans to grow its endowment to support its mission of serving Milwaukee’s diverse neighborhoods with high-impact quality journalism.

  • The Zilber Family Foundation has contributed $250,000 over the next four years to support operational costs.
  • Borealis Philanthropy, through its highly competitive Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, has approved a general support grant of $100,000 to help NNS hire staff to bolster the newsroom’s business strategy and capacity.

In addition to financial support, NNS will also host two reporters for 2021-22 from Report For America through The GroundTruth Project and Spectrum News. The purpose of RFA is to address an urgent need in journalism at a time when news deserts are widening across the country, leaving communities uninformed on local issues and threatening our democracy like never before.

“For 10 years, the Neighborhood News Service has done professional and objective reporting about the ordinary people in our neighborhoods who do extraordinary things but otherwise would have been ignored,” said Ron Smith, editor and project director for NNS. “We are so grateful to still be here and to help fill information gaps in Milwaukee through a collaborative model for journalism that is embedded in serving readers and allowing them to help set the news agenda.”

These grants will provide crucial support for day-to-day operations while NNS seeks to infuse its new endowment fund, which is designed to provide a stable, enduring and dependable source of revenue.

“The idea behind creating the endowment,” Smith said, “is to reduce the need for constant fundraising, allowing us to focus more on the job of practicing great journalism for the community. An endowment would relieve the pressure of continually seeking funding for the next year, and so on.”

Staffed by professionals and augmented with student interns and community volunteers, the Neighborhood News Service covers topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, food insecurity, and housing for neighborhoods in the central city. Through a partnership with the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in Madison, NNS also connects with residents through News414, which delivers free, valuable information resources directly to readers via text messages.

Since its inception, the Neighborhood News Service has won four regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence from the Radio Television Digital News Association, as well as journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club every year since 2013. In 2020, NNS won both gold and silver awards, respectively, in the short feature story category for Matthew Martinez’s “‘I felt like I lost a part of me’: How Camille Mays finds peace after gun violence took her son,” and “Basketball coach demands his students score on and off the court” by Edgar Mendez.

In addition, NNS won its first national journalism award for “Best Solutions Project of the Year” for its reporting on the closing of the Lincoln Hill and Copper Lake youth prisons and the implications for Milwaukee in the 2020 LION Awards, which celebrate the best of independent online media across the U.S. and Canada.

The Neighborhood News Service traces its origins to the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative and United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee. Funders have included the Zilber Family Foundation, Bader Philanthropies, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Public Policy Forum, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, the Brewers Community Foundation, the Croen Foundation, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, and contributions from individual donors. All money raised goes toward paying the professional staff of six part-time reporters and editors as well as for operating expenses.

For more information about the NNS endowment, contact Paul Markovina.