In the first few months of the pandemic, Bay City News (BCN), a two-part organization comprised of a commercial regional newswire and an enterprise reporting nonprofit, identified a need for a go-to source of reliable information to help people in the Bay Area navigate the pandemic with accurate, timely information. With support from the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program (known as JSK), which boasts a network of outstanding journalists from around the world, we created a COVID-19 Information Hub at LocalNewsMatters.org. Because of our hybrid model, Bay City News was able to share key news stories with more than 100 other media outlets via our newswire, dramatically amplifying our reach and impact.
We first focused on research — looking into what others had already done and what information gaps were still remaining. With audience-driven feedback, we made a list of the services that people needed and gathered the information from primary, reliable sources such as county health departments. We built a new section on our website to hold that data, organized so that each county has a button that takes readers to a county-specific page with information by service category (schools, restaurants, courts, etc.).
We reported on topics like virus outbreaks at local prisons, hazard pay for frontline workers, and problems with the vaccine rollout. We created a daily summary of news developments about COVID-19 in the region. To give greater impact to the project beyond our free website, we expanded our subscription-based, BCN newswire to create a “COVID-19 News” section and a “Nonprofit News Partners” category for stories from other nonprofit news organizations, including Big Local News, San Jose Spotlight and EdSource. It allows us to cross-publish public service stories through the newswire to about 100 other media platforms, including TV, radio, print and digital outlets that are either in the Bay Area or interested in the region.
Partnerships allowed us to expand our coverage and increase visibility for like-minded organizations. We collaborated with the podcast “Race and Coronavirus” to add audio content to our site, co-produced a bilingual multi-media package on the impact of the pandemic and limited housing options on agricultural workers in the Salinas Valley, and expanded our capacity for photography through a partnership with Catchlight focused on San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.