Meet the newest members of the Coronavirus Storytelling Project, launched last month to help journalists facing difficult times and promote compelling stories about the people and places impacted by the pandemic.

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. 

Here are this week’s recipients:

Connie Burcham

Burcham is the editor of the Watonga Republican, reporting on issues facing her readers in and around the Blaine County community located northwest of Oklahoma City. Her project explores the difficult decisions the local livestock industry faces as COVID-19 disrupts work at meat processing plants and closes schools restaurants and schools.

Jenni Carlson

Carlson is an award-winning sports columnist for The Oklahoman, where she has worked since 1999. Her project centers on what she has learned from her experience volunteering with Meals on Wheels in Oklahoma City. “The coronavirus pandemic has made most Americans a little stir crazy. We understand why we’re sheltering in place, why we’re safer at home, why we’re socially distancing, but it’s hard not seeing extended family or close friends,” she said. “The hard reality, though, is that millions of Americans deal with isolation even when there’s not a pandemic. … Many of the men and women who come to the door were sheltering at home long before the rest of us started to do it. They are often forgotten. I don’t want to forget them.”

Traci Chapman

Chapman has worked for community newspapers in Canadian County for 13 years. As a freelancer, she has a unique position as staff writer/photographer for the Mustang Times, where she is responsible for covering all news and regular feature beats. Her project looks at the challenges posed by COVID-19 due to the nearly complete transition to remote work and how that impacts her job as both watchdog and storyteller.

Dawn Shelton

Shelton is founding publisher of the Luther Register (lutherregister.news), which was founded in late 2015 to fill a news desert in the rural community northeast Oklahoma County. Her project will portray how local businesses have maneuvered their own “pandemic pivots,” including restaurants that went to curbside and delivery service and the strawberry patch implementing appointments for socially distanced picking times.

Jacob Threadgill

Threadgill, who was laid off by the Oklahoma Gazette, is working on a story looking at the impact of the pandemic for restaurants and service industry workers, and how they are navigating the uncertain times by changing business models and applying for federal programs. He recently spent over two years covering the Oklahoma City restaurant scene for the Gazette, writing food reviews and following restaurant openings and closings. Prior to moving to Oklahoma, he spent five years at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. 

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. 

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.  Read the latest stories here (link?)

The next round of recipients will be announced May 8. Apply here.

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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