A Q&A with INNovation Fund Grantee Public Herald

Just a few months ago, the Investigative News Network received 118 proposals chock full of new ideas on how to achieve or advance economic sustainability in a nonprofit newsroom.

That was the response to the first of four grant rounds of the INNovation Fund—a $1 million partnership between INN and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The two-year program’s focus is to support inventive projects with micro-grants of up to $35,000 each. INN administers the fund and selects the recipients.

INN awarded the first round of grants, a total of $236,280, in mid April 2014. The application period for round two is now open and can be accessed here.

One of eight first-round grant winners was the Public Herald, which received $35,000 to launch a nationwide screening and discussion tour of its documentary “Triple Divide” in key states where hydrofracking is proposed. The goal: to expand its reach and multiply its audience of loyal members.

The tour has been on the road for a few weeks now, but its founding editors, Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic, took time off their busy schedule to share their insight into the INNovation Fund application process and how they succeeded.

What motivated the Public Herald to pursue the INNovation Fund?

Melissa Troutman: Public Herald has been engaging new audiences with the documentary form since Triple Divide‘s release in March 2013, growing our Membership by over 200 percent by hosting screening and discussion events. But our travel was limited by geography because communities had to cover our mileage and lodging in order to bring us to their area. We don’t have operational funding yet. Given that our model for sustaining Public Herald is unique, we felt like our chances for an INNovation Fund grant to cover travel to communities otherwise ‘out-of-reach’ were pretty decent.

When and how was the project idea conceived?

Troutman: Public Herald’s mission is to combine journalism, community and the arts. When we produce content, it’s always with the mind to 1) tell the whole truth to the best of our ability 2) create content that nurtures democracy by increasing extended community engagement with an issue, and 3) stimulate and inspire through creative interpretation of visual & audio elements of storytelling. Once we finished Triple Divide, we had the option of handing it over for distribution or going DIY.

We chose the latter because we knew that the information had to reach communities immediately, many of them rural, and in-person screenings made the most sense, especially since we publish online and knew we weren’t reaching the people who needed the information the most, and needed it yesterday. After this national tour, we’ll be looking into distribution and focusing on new projects in the proverbial pipeline.

How will the grant help Public Herald realize its vision?

Troutman: So far, all of Public Herald’s work has been conducted pro bono with the help of donations from the public. Our members built our foundation, and the majority of them we’ve met by screening Triple Divide in their community. As a young, unfunded nonprofit we could not have taken our investigations across the country to further expand our readership on a national level, without this grant. Our vision of becoming a nationally recognized leader in cinematic, inspiring journalism is already being realized, and we’ve got four more months of screenings to go!

What advice do you have to future INNovation Fund applicants?

Troutman: In-person engagement is so powerful; it’s transformed Public Herald’s visibility and impact. That said, content has to be relevant in order to draw crowds. Cover what’s most important to people, take risks and don’t be afraid to incorporate artistic elements, take the time to find communities who need your content and invite them to join you in hosting an event to talk about the issues. It’s worked wonders for Public Herald. And good luck!