Sturgis Area Community Foundation awards Watershed Voice $25K grant

Graphic by Deborah Haak-Frost.

Watershed Voice (WSV) was awarded a $25,000 community impact grant on Thursday, April 13 from the Sturgis Area Community Foundation (SACF) for Watershed’s Community News Coalition project.

Executive Editor and Publisher Alek Haak-Frost and Staff Writer Beca Welty were interviewed by the foundation’s grant committee on Thursday morning, and received a notice of approval Thursday afternoon. Haak-Frost, who launched Watershed Voice in April 2020 with the help of cofounders Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma and Tom Lowry, thanked SACF and the grant committee for their generosity and willingness to invest in community supported journalism.

“This funding represents an important step toward sustainability for Watershed Voice, and we can’t thank the foundation and its grant committee enough for joining our Community News Coalition and investing in local journalism,” Haak-Frost said. 

“Through a combination of subscriptions, advertising, donations, and underwriting support from a coalition of local stakeholders who understand and value the effect independent, local journalism can have on this community, Watershed Voice hopes to provide daily news coverage for St. Joseph County for years to come.”

SACF is a $30M foundation with 155 philanthropic funds that return more than $1.1M to the community every year through grants and scholarships. The foundation supports a broad range of programs and projects including arts and culture, community and economic development, education, health, human services, housing, seniors, and youth.

“We look forward to seeing the Watershed Voice grow and connect residents to local news and the information they need to engage with their community,” Lindsay Richardson, Executive Director of Sturgis Area Community Foundation, said.

The Community News Coalition was established to address local news decline in St. Joseph County. Because of the decade-long decline of local newspapers across the country, many communities are left with significantly diminished news coverage, creating neighborhood, rural, and issue-based news deserts. 

As local news outlets struggle with shrinking capacity, these communities are receiving less coverage in key areas such as placemaking, arts and culture, democracy, health and wellbeing, and social and environmental justice. Watershed is a 501(c)3 nonprofit news magazine based in Three Rivers which aims to change that trend in St. Joseph County by prioritizing coverage in Sturgis and Three Rivers, in addition to coverage of surrounding communities in Kalamazoo and Cass Counties.

WSV uses principles of solutions journalism in its reporting to help readers understand complex problems in their community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and people working to improve conditions and solve problems. This can lead to increased awareness of those organizations and individuals’ work and impact. These stories can help develop new community partnerships, and attract additional donors and volunteers, in addition to securing grant dollars with new funders.

Underwriters are considered crucial to the organization, and their support is the reason WSV can produce content within a broad spectrum of topics. Support from underwriters allows WSV to dedicate editorial resources to cover key issue areas that are of importance to both the underwriter and WSV’s mission. Watershed works with like-minded stakeholders who have shared values and missions. Because of these intersecting interests, WSV may cover its underwriters’ work journalistically. However, WSV observes strict boundaries regarding the direction, review, and approval of content that is published.

If you or your organization/business are interested in joining the coalition and would like more information, please contact Executive Editor Alek Haak-Frost at [email protected] or (269) 244-6055.