June Leffler, the sole reporter in Wrangell, Alaska, for KSTK, visited KCAW for a week thanks in part to a grant from the Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund.

Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund awards $15K in grants during first half of 2019

First ‘Share + Learn’ event with Resolve Philadelphia draws more than 80 people; more planned later this year with City Bureau, Outlier Media and Texas Tribune

Stefanie Murray
Center for Cooperative Media
8 min readJun 26, 2019

In its first several months in existence, the Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund has supported peer-to-peer learning for journalists from Philadelphia to California to Alaska.

That includes the $15,000 we awarded to assist journalists with travel, and the smashing success of our first “Share + Learn” event with Resolve Philadelphia.

And there’s still a lot more to come! (And still plenty of time for YOU to apply!)

The Peer Fund is an initiative to facilitate and accelerate peer learning, relationship building and collaboration among journalists, media makers and communicators in the United States. The Center for Cooperative Media is facilitating the Fund, which is generously supported by Democracy Fund.

In March, the Fund began awarding grants to support travel and convening expenses for grantees to meet and spend time with each other. We especially aim to support journalists of color and those from, or intending to serve, underserved and underrepresented communities.

The Fund is paying out grants of $500 or $1,000. Applicants must be a working journalist or employed by a journalism-support organization, be based in the U.S., and be requesting support for domestic travel. Note that the PLAC Fund is not intended to support travel to conferences; the intent is to support in-person peer-to-peer learning efforts. (For more info and to read our FAQs, visit this page.)

Thanks to our judges

Before we tell you about our first round of award winners, we want to thank our panel of outside judges for the first three months of the Peer Fund: Michael Bolden, Melanie Sill and Julianne Chiaet.

From left: Michael Bolden, Julianne Chiaet and Melanie Sill

The Peer Fund’s scoring criteria is based on a weighted system that gives preference to journalists of color, women and those who identify as low-income. Our judges score each applicant on three subjective criteria related to how well the applicant explained the purpose of the trip, the applicant’s plan to share what they learn and the overall strength of the application.

  • Michael D. Bolden is the managing director, communications, for the John S. Knight (JSK) Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University. Previously, Bolden served as the first editorial director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For 13 years before that he worked at The Washington Post, and before that for the Miami Herald, the Northwest Florida Daily News and The Times-Picayune (New Orleans). He was a 2011 Maynard Media Academy Fellow at Harvard University and earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Alabama. Bolden is a longtime member of the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Press Club, NLGJA-the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists and Sigma Tau Delta. He serves on the board for the SPJ Foundation.
  • Julianne Chiaet is a science and technology journalist who works as a branded content writer at Mic. She is the Vice President of the Asian American Journalists Association, New York chapter. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Scientific American, Daily Mail Online, and more.
  • Melanie Sill is the senior news consultant, N.C. Local News Lab Fund a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and veteran news executive who held top leadership roles at The News & Observer of Raleigh, the Sacramento Bee and at Southern California Public Radio/ KPCC in Los Angeles. She now works as an independent editor and senior news consultant with a focus on local news and innovation in public-service journalism, including work with Democracy Fund in North Carolina, the N.C. Local News Lab Fund and the Membership Puzzle Project.

And the award recipients are …

Our first round of individual award winners in February, March, April and May included:

Tom Franklin, left, met with photojournalist Don Bartletti.

Ambreen Ali is a freelance journalist who recently relocated to New Jersey from the West Coast. She is interested in covering underserved communities, particularly low-income populations and immigrants. Ambreen visited Resolve Philadelphia to connect with local journalists and learn about reporting projects focused on investigative reporting and regional politics.

Glenn Burkins is founder and current editor of QCity Metro, the leading news website serving the African-American community in the Charlotte, North Carolina region. Glenn visited Resolve Philadelphia and plans to strengthen his working relationship with Consolidated Media Alliance by collaborating on a future project.

Chris Costanzo is the founder and editor of the non-profit publication Food Bank News. This resource is dedicated to providing information and insight to people working on the front lines of solving hunger. Chris visited Tim Marena of Daily Yonder to develop articles and/or special reports about rural hunger that would appeal to the readership of both Daily Yonder and Food Bank News.

Thomas E. Franklin is an award-winning photojournalist and assistant professor in multi-platform journalism at Montclair State University. Tom visited Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Don Bartletti, in Southern California and hoped to report on the immigration story at the U.S./Mexican border. His coverage of the migrant crisis ran in the Los Angeles Times in March.

Hilda Gurdian, publisher and founder of La Noticia, the primary media outlet serving the Latino community across North Carolina. Hilda plans to use the principles that she learned at her visit to Resolve Philadelphia as a representative in the newly formed, Charlotte Journalism Collaborative.

June Leffler is the sole reporter covering the tiny island town of Wrangell, Alaska for KSTK public radio. June visited the news department at KCAW in Sitka, Alaska to see how a larger news desk is run.

Erika Matsuda works at KUSM MontanaPBS in Bozeman, Montana. Erika plans to meet her mentor, Trina Hester of KPBS, as part of the Public Media Women in Leadership program.

Steve Mencher is news director of Northern California Public Media, which includes radio and television stations affiliated with NPR and PBS. Steve used his Peer Learning + Collaboration Fund grant to visit Neenah Ellis, General Manager of WYSO. Neenah has transformed this small, local NPR station, WYSO in Yellow Springs Ohio, into a model for training and community engagement.

Patricia A. Murray publishes an online community paper — the Durham Skywriter and hosts TV Skywriter, which airs live on YouTube. Patricia plans to visit City Bureau to learn new strategies to outreach to the residents of Durham, North Carolina, regardless of ethnicity and income.

Asraa Mustufa is digital editor at The Chicago Reporter. She applied to visit Resolve Philadelphia because of her interest in the projects that Resolve Philadelphia have produced.

Jennifer Pemberton is the managing editor at KTOO News in Alaska. Jennifer plans to visit Steve Bass at Oregon Public Broadcasting as part of the Women in Public Media Leadership mentorship program.

Melanie Plenda is an award-winning freelance journalist and the project manager for the Granite State News Collaborative. Melanie used her Peer Learning + Collaboration grant to visit Resolve Philadelphia and reports that her takeaways are already making an impact in her organization.

Hasson Rashid is a citizen journalist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a member of CCTV’s NeighborMedia, a legislature advocate, and fighter for justice. Hasson visited Resolve Philadelphia to form collaborative bond with those who value local information, civic participation, and social justice.

Stefanie Ritoper covers early childhood education at KPCC radio in Pasadena, California. Stefanie plans to use her Peer Learning + Collaboration grant to visit both Outlier Media and Chalkbeat in Detroit.

Angilee Shah is an editor and reporter based in Phoenix. Angilee visited Resolve Philadelphia to learn about different models for collaboration and inclusion as she embarks on the task of creating a new media organization.

Shereen Siewert is the founder and publisher of Wausau Pilot & Review, a non-profit, online news organization covering Wausau, Wisc. Shereen plans to use her Peer Learning + Collaboration grant to visit City Bureau in Chicago.

Glenn Burkins, left, at the Resolve Philadelphia event.

Allison Stevens is an independent reporter, writer, editor and consultant in the Washington, D.C., area. Allison visited J. Damon Cain, editor of The Register-Herald of Beckley, West Virginia, to begin outreach to news editors in West Virginia, one of the states without any journalistic representation on Capitol Hill, and to receive guidance on how to create a collaborative network in West Virginia.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Chicago. He is particularly interested in the concept of engagement journalism and plans to visit Ashley Alvarado, Director of Community Engagement at Southern California Public Radio.

More ‘Share + Learn’ events announced

As part of the Peer Fund, we are also hosting peer-to-peer learning events with news entities who we knew would be popular targets. That way, instead of many people all contacting Resolve Philadelphia and asking for time to meet, we’d do it in a group.

Several of our grantees, as you saw above, took us up on this offer! Resolve Philly was our first, and it was—by all accounts—a fantastic success. More than 80 people registered to attend the event, which the Center and Peer Fund co-hosted in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network. The feedback was phenomenal; being able to meet face-to-face and learn from the folks who are part of Resolve made a huge difference to the participants.

Our next Peer Fund gatherings will be at City Bureau on Aug. 15, Outlier Media on Sept. 27, and The Texas Tribune on Oct. 17.

The City Bureau gathering will be limited to 15 people, all Peer Fund grantees, so if you want to attend that, you’ll need to apply for a grant.

The Outlier Media and Texas Tribune gatherings will be open to both Peer Fund grantees and anyone else who can get themselves to Detroit or Austin; use this EventBrite link to register for Outlier Media, this EventBrite link to register for The Texas Tribune and this link or the button below to apply for a grant if you need it.

And last, but certainly not least, the Peer Fund is visiting four U.S. cities over the next year to conduct workshops about healthy, connected and collaborative news ecosystems. Our first two cities will be Cleveland and Oklahoma City this summer and fall. The next two, which we will visit in winter and spring of 2020, are still TBD, so if you’re interested in pitching your city, let us know: peerfund@collaborativejournalism.org.

Stefanie Murray is the director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at murrayst@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.



Stefanie Murray
Center for Cooperative Media

Director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.