The changing media landscape has closed a lot of doors for many journalists over the years. But, it’s also opened them — creating opportunities for people to build their own, new forms of media. That’s particularly true for women, which is why J-Lab and the McCormick Foundation launched an ambitious effort in 2008 called the New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant program, which aims to fund women-led projects that are changing the media landscape. “As you look at newsrooms downsizing, a lot of women have taken buyouts, and those are very accomplished women,” said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab.
J-Lab and McCormick recently announced this year’s winners, and there’s an overarching theme running through each one — namely, public service. “Public service appeared as a different iterative in each one, but that’s what it came back to,” Schaffer said in an interview. “Good ideas rise to the top automatically, and once they do they present a diversity of topics and platforms.”
The four grantees were selected from a group of 227 applicants. Each of the projects will receive $12,000 over the next year and an additional $2,000 once they raise a matching $2,000. While the funding isn’t huge, it allows grantees to build a proof of concept, giving them the potential to be sustainable and work toward getting further support, Schaffer said.
a look at the four winners
ClearHealthCosts.com, launched by former New York Times editor Jeanne Pinder, aims to bring transparency to health care costs using a platform that lets people compare differences in local prices for the same medical procedures. Pinder launched the effort after she realized that the numbers on her medical bills seemed to vary for reasons that weren’t clear. “Why would anesthesia for a 30-minute surgery cost $2,000 or so one place and $6,000 at another place? Why would a simple procedure like a colonoscopy gain a $913 reimbursement one place and a $2,700 reimbursement at another place?” she asks on her site.
Pinder won her first grant for the project, totaling $20,000, in 2010 from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, following an entrepreneurial journalism class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism taught by Jeff Jarvis and Jeremy Caplan.
The site, which is currently still in beta, offers an interactive map and other tools to help people better understand the medical marketplace.
Symbolia is a tablet magazine created by Erin Polgreen that attempts to combine investigative journalism with comics and illustration. “Symbolia is a tablet magazine of illustrated journalism that pairs incendiary reportage with beautiful illustrations and comics,” as the site explains. “Our goal is to provide an immersive, engaging experience for a new generation of newshounds.”
Polgren, a media strategist and consultant, is currently developing a technology fellowship program for the Instructional Telecommunications Foundation, among other projects. She recently gave a presentation at SXSW on comics and journalism, called “How Comics Journalism Is Saving Your Media.” She’s been contacted by several news organizations looking to partner with her on Symbolia, Schaffer said.
Carolina Public Press is a non-profit investigative news site for the 17 westernmost counties of North Carolina. The site was launched by Angie Newsome, who was a reporting and writing fellow at The Poynter Institute and a business and investigative reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times.
The project calls itself a “small, scrappy website” with the goal of bringing readers “nonpartisan, balanced and fair reporting and photojournalism. We aim, every day, to offer high-quality news and information for and about Western North Carolina.”
Because it’s a not-for-profit site, Carolina Public Press operates with an eye toward reporting and high-quality journalism, not on selling advertising. “To make this happen, we rely on the support of those who believe in our mission and the importance of a public press dedicated to in-depth, investigative and independent reporting,” the site says.
The Seattle Lesbian is an online magazine created by journalists Sarah Toce and Charlene Strong. The daily news site is “regularly featured in mainstream and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media platforms for its inclusiveness and dedication to bridge the divide between all communities regardless of sexuality, gender, stereotyping, and abridged discrimination,” according to the site.
Toce, editor-in-chief of the site, recently completed more than 10 interviews for Windy City Times as part of an upcoming book on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The entire HIV/AIDS series was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. Strong, co-editor of The Seattle Lesbian, is an advocate for marriage equality and legal protections for LGBT families. She’s a a co-producer of the documentary “For My Wife,” which chronicles her efforts to fight for marriage equality after her wife, Kate Fleming, died in a flash flood and Strong was denied the right to see her in the hospital.
The Seattle Lesbian has reached more than 1 million readers globally in just over year. “It’s an information-rich site,” J-Lab’s Schaffer said. “They’re both doing this part-time and looking to roll it out to other cities. There’s a good niche here.”
You’ll be able to read more about the winners as they blog about their projects here.