VGA started with an assessment of the local news media environment. We consulted Pew Research data on local news habits in Nebraska, and we interviewed 20 local stakeholders representing diverse viewpoints across the state – editors from news outlets, current and former journalists, community advocates like Nebraska Appleseed and the Latino Center of the Midlands, and issue experts at OpenSky Policy Institute and the Platte Institute.
We also consulted with model news organizations in states with similar geographic and demographic characteristics to Nebraska. Organizations such as South Dakota News Watch, WyoFile, and Oklahoma News Watch generously shared lessons learned, budgets, and their approaches to measuring impact.
The yearlong assessment and planning process resulted in a comprehensive business and fundraising plan. VGA continued to be a partner in this plan’s implementation, advising in the formation of a new nonprofit organization, the Nebraska Journalism Trust, in April 2021. In September 2021, the organization launched its flagship publication, the Flatwater Free Press.
The founding fundraising campaign set a three-year goal of $2 million; working together, VGA and the Nebraska Journalism Trust raised $3 million in just two years.
Today, Flatwater Free Press stories reach more than 350,000 Nebraskans every week through a website, free email newsletter, and partnering news outlets.
VGA continues to support the organization with grant writing, performance measurement, and consulting in nonprofit best practices. In 2022, VGA Senior Grant Writer & Development Consultant Shane Pekny was awarded the Newcomer of the Year Award from the Institute for Nonprofit News for his role in the development of the Nebraska Journalism Trust and the Flatwater Free Press.