Three nonprofit, nonpartisan newsrooms have launched a service journalism project connecting Milwaukee residents directly to reporters by delivering news through text messages.
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS), Wisconsin Watch and Outlier Media are collaborating on the News414 project, which uses innovative technology and research techniques to deliver crucial information to residents, investigate neighborhoods’ most pressing issues and deliver accountability journalism to Milwaukee and the broader public.
The newsrooms are funding the project with support from the Google News Initiative.
News414 is currently focused on five beats: food security, housing, health and safety, jobs and money, and mental health and domestic violence — areas with longstanding information gaps the newsrooms aim to address during the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath.
Jeff Roman, an organizer, consultant and community strategist with a track record serving diverse groups of Milwaukee residents, is News414 project manager.
(Update: On July 10, Roman left News414 to serve as executive director of Milwaukee County’s Office on African American Affairs.)
Jimmy Gutierrez, a veteran public affairs journalist and former Milwaukee firefighter, serves as engagement manager.
Both Milwaukee natives, Roman and Gutierrez are helping News414 to create a two-way line of communication between residents and reporters through a model pioneered by Outlier Media in Detroit. “News you can use” is texted directly to residents’ cell phones. Subscribers to the free texting service will also become crucial sources of news tips and on-the-ground information that may be published by Wisconsin Watch and NNS.
“I’m thrilled that News414 is being led by sons of Milwaukee who know and love our communities,” said Ron Smith, editor and project director of the Milwaukee Neighborhood Service, which is based at Marquette University. “We are excited to get things moving so we can feed the information needs of residents.”
Roman has deep experience in mobilizing and supporting diverse community engagement groups. As project manager, he is keeping News414 organized and on-mission. He is a point of contact for the three partner newsrooms, updating the collaboration on the project’s progress and resource needs.
Roman has spent four years as a member of Derute Consulting Cooperative, which supports organizations committed to racial justice. He previously served as a program officer at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, focusing on efforts to reduce poverty and disparities. He is a former two-term commissioner and chair of the Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission and was previously executive director of the nonprofit Urban Roots Milwaukee.
As engagement manager, Gutierrez is finding ways to reach Milwaukee residents and help News414 newsrooms translate their information needs into news coverage.
The job is bringing him home. Gutierrez grew up in Milwaukee and spent 2013-2015 as a city firefighter, where he also led a multimedia campaign to improve firefighter health and wellness. Gutierrez spent the past four years at New Hampshire Public Radio, where he launched, co-hosted and produced The Second Greatest Show on Earth, which relied completely on listener questions and engagement. But his New Hampshire colleagues say his heart never left Milwaukee; the Bucks logos and other Milwaukee-themed paraphernalia adorning his cubicle made that clear.
How does News414 work?
News414 sends free, personalized data via SMS texting, standard text messaging, to Milwaukee residents. The text snapshot below shows what an early interaction between News414 and a resident looks like from the newsroom’s end. If you want to try it yourself, text the word MILWAUKEE, MKE or NEWS414 to 73224. Message and data rates may apply. As a subscriber, you may receive up to four messages a month, or more depending on the information you share or request. Reply HELP for help or STOP to cancel at any time. Privacy and Terms can be found here.
After this chatbot-driven interaction, we invite each of our users and news consumers to talk directly with a journalist. For instance, news consumers might ask questions about housing, food or jobs, and journalists will then research the answers for them. These conversations will drive deeper-dive accountability and investigative work published by NNS, Wisconsin Watch and other news outlets.
About the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service:
The nonprofit Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service covers the people and the issues that affect the city’s communities of color. Through evidence-based reporting, NNS intentionally celebrates ordinary people who do extraordinary things but also serves as a fierce watchdog for neighborhoods that often go uncovered by other media. Housed in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, NNS employs a mix of paid professionals, community members and interns from schools across Milwaukee to deliver a daily news multimedia report.
About Wisconsin Watch
Wisconsin Watch is the news outlet of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Its mission is “to increase the quality, quantity and understanding of investigative journalism to foster an informed citizenry and strengthen democracy.” Wisconsin Watch’s journalism digs into undercovered issues, documents broken and failing systems, puts findings into regional and national contexts and explores potential solutions. It also trains current and future investigative journalists through workshops, internships and fellowships, mentoring and collaborations with journalism classes and news organizations.
About Outlier Media
Outlier Media is a Detroit-based nonprofit service journalism organization. Outlier identifies, reports, and delivers valuable information to empower residents to hold municipal government, elected officials, and other power structures accountable for long-standing problems. By keeping residents first, Outlier hopes to give more than it takes and leave people with the information they need to create change in their communities.