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When a powerful storm knocked out power for days across Milwaukee in August, vulnerable residents faced a multi-pronged disaster. The outage left thousands without air conditioning during the hottest stretch of the year, while food spoiled in the refrigerators of people who already had trouble affording groceries. 

Connecting residents with credible information about power outages, finding cooling centers and free meals and replacing spoiled groceries became critical. Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) sprung into action through News414, a service journalism collaboration that delivers actionable information to traditionally underserved residents. 

Reporters quickly published and repeatedly updated a list of resources and answers to common questions on the NNS website and in a News414 Facebook group that now has 800-plus members. That information was widely read and shared online, including by service agencies that serve vulnerable populations. Recognizing that some residents lacked internet access — particularly during the power outage — we also texted the information to about 1,300 people, inviting them to connect with a reporter if they had additional questions or problems. 

Several residents who rely on state food assistance told us that they didn’t know there was a way to apply for replacement funds for spoiled groceries — until we told them. “Thank you for your message as I didn’t know it could be replaced,” one person texted. “I really appreciate it.”

The storm vividly illustrated why engagement-driven service journalism is important. But we recognize that some Milwaukeeans face slow-moving crises each day, including a lack of access to food, housing, health services and everything in between. We launched News414 last year to respond to those crises as well — and to watchdog the systems that fail to deliver for residents.  

Your donation today can help us expand this nonprofit, nonpartisan reporting as we seek to provide Milwaukee residents — and those across across Wisconsin — with information that can improve their lives.  Milwaukee residents — and those across across Wisconsin — with information that can improve their lives.

We are $9,987 away from reaching our goal of raising $20,000 to meet a match from NewsMatch by midnight on Dec. 20. Please consider making a donation of $50, $100, $250 or whatever you are able to give to help us reach our goal.

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Jim Malewitz / Wisconsin Watch

Jim Malewitz joined the Center in 2019 as investigations editor. His role includes editing, managing fellows and interns, facilitating cross-newsroom collaborations and investigative reporting. Jim has worked almost exclusively in nonprofit, public affairs journalism. He most recently reported on the environment for Bridge Magazine in his home state of Michigan, following four years as an energy and investigative reporter for the Texas Tribune. Jim previously covered energy and the environment for Stateline, a nonprofit news service in Washington, D.C. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, POLITICO Magazine and newspapers across the country. Jim majored in political science at Grinnell College in Iowa and holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. There, he was a founding staff member of the nonprofit Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, where he serves on the board of directors.