Six Oklahoma journalists are joining The Coronavirus Storytelling Project, a collaboration between three organizations to help state 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. 

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. This week, a sixth recipient was added when Berry Tramel, sports columnist for The Oklahoman, donated the grant he was awarded for being the Coronavirus Storytelling Project’s first participant.

The projects will be posted on Oklahoma Watch in the coming days and be offered at no charge to any Oklahoma news organization for publication.  The next round of recipients will be announced May 1. Apply here.

Here are this week’s recipients and their projects:

Michael Simons

Mike Simons

Simons, an award-winning photojournalist for the Tulsa World, spent his week on furlough working on a photo essay on how social service agencies already stretched are gaining a raft of new clients amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kaylea Hutson-Miller

Kaylea Hutson-Miller

Hutson-Miller’s work has appeared in World, the Grove Sun and the Joplin (Mo.) Sun among other publications. Her story for the project centers on two high school siblings who became certified nursing assistants last summer and how their lives have changed since their school went remote and COVID-19 hit the senior center where they work.

Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer

Lackmeyer recently marked his 30th work anniversary at The Oklahoman in an empty newsroom. His project focuses on his efforts to cope with furloughs, pay cuts and a sudden disconnection from the community he built through decades covering the evolution of Oklahoma City while still “trying to give them, and myself, hope to continue.”

Dany Varghese

Dany Varghese

Varghese seeks to make a living in photography, working to launch a freelance business after losing his job as a landman. His photo documentary series  “Life In Quarantine” expands on the project launched on his Facebook page Dany Varghese Photography. “It is a record of their life, their stories, in their own words with my pictures,” Varghese said. “In a time of social distancing, the visual representation of events is at risk of being minimized. I hope to help document this tumultuous and changing time.” 

Lindsey Chastain

Lindsey Chastain

Chastain is managing editor of the Skiatook Journal and will be taking a second furlough week next month. She is working on a story about the creative ways community newspapers can respond to the pandemic and how communities come together even when they can’t be together.

J.D. Meisner

J.D. Meisner

Meisner and his wife, MaryLee, bought the Cushing Citizen in February. He is telling the story of how they are balancing the essential work of running a weekly newspaper while avoiding public contact, seeing advertising revenue plummet and assisting aging parents whose patience with self-isolation is waning.

Mike Sherman is project manager for the Coronavirus Storytelling Project. He spent 24 years as a sports writer and sports editor for The Oklahoman. He was the deputy editor for sports at the Tampa Bay Times until being laid off in March. Contact him at michael.o.sherman@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikesherman


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