A collaboration between three organizations will launch a new initiative to help Oklahoma journalists who have been furloughed or displaced as well as those in struggling community news organizations.

The Oklahoma-based Inasmuch Foundation has pledged $50,000 to launch the project in collaboration with the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Watch. Other funders also will be sought for the statewide project.

“The Coronavirus Storytelling Project provides a unique opportunity to both increase coverage of the COVID-19 crisis, and directly support individuals furloughed or laid-off,” said Robert J. Ross, chairman and CEO of Inasmuch Foundation.  

Ross said Inasmuch Foundation’s emergency grantmaking in response to COVID-19 is ongoing. Additional grants will be announced in the weeks ahead in support of the foundation’s four program areas: journalism, education, human services, and community.

The initial funding from Inasmuch Foundation will provide for five $500 grants each week for the next four months as well as funding for a project manager.

Each grant would provide journalists with a one-time $500 stipend to write a first-person, narrative or data-journalism story or multimedia piece (podcast, photo package or video) on either the coronavirus outbreak, challenges faced by journalists during the pandemic, or an issue important to Oklahoma in 2020. While the piece would be published by Oklahoma Watch, it also would be shared in collaboration with the journalist’s news organizations and other news organizations in Oklahoma. The stories and multimedia pieces would then be archived for future historical perspectives on the pandemic in Oklahoma.

“These are challenging times for journalists in Oklahoma and across the nation. The pandemic has heightened the financial issues faced by their news organizations,” said Joe Hight, director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and board chairman of Oklahoma Watch. “After submitting the proposal to Tyler Tokarczyk of Inasmuch Foundation, I was amazed at how he worked with me and then put so much extra work into it. The foundation, hall of fame and Oklahoma Watch feel it is important to share these journalists’ stories and to help them.”

Mike Sherman has been named project manager and editor over the storytelling project and will work with Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze. Sherman, who worked many years in Oklahoma, was recently laid off as deputy editor for Sports at The Tampa Bay Times. The first piece will be an essay written during his furlough week by The Oklahoman Sports Columnist Berry Tramel, who also is a journalism hall of fame member. It is now posted on Oklahoma Watch and offered to other news organizations.

Journalists can go to oklahomawatch.org, or to this link, to apply each week for the grant. The deadline will be midnight Saturday. The recipients will be chosen each Monday for work that week.

Besides the Inasmuch grant, the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame is donating  proceeds of its recently released book “Our Greatest Journalists: Fifty Years of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame” to the fund. Donations can also be sent to Oklahoma Watch and designated to The Coronavirus Storytelling Project.

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