Why SVCF supports local media organizations like San José Spotlight and East Palo Alto Center for Community Media

In 2014, Silicon Valley Community Foundation was selected to be part of an initiative funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support local journalism. That work has evolved over the years, involving new partners and dozens of grantees. Today, through our Local Journalism Fund, our commitment to journalism remains as strong as ever because we believe that the media and news can shift the narrative of communities that, historically, have not been represented in public conversations driving important civic decisions. Our latest round of grants supported local organizations that are working on engaging, informing and activating communities through journalism-related efforts.

SVCF Director of Community-Building Mauricio Palma explained how supporting journalism helps reduce systemic disparities, and builds strong and engaged communities:

“While income inequality has exacerbated deeply rooted inequities and social injustices in Silicon Valley, historically mainstream news media continued to fail to cover the issues that matter to the communities most impacted by those same inequities and injustices. We believe that accurate and inspiring community stories play an important role in informing, engaging, and activating individuals and groups to participate in our democracy. Our fund will strengthen local media nonprofits working to amplify untold or under-told stories created by, about, and for communities of color.”

San Jose Spotlight, Ramona Giwargis and Josh BarousseOne grantee organization telling stories in this way is San José Spotlight. Founded in 2019 by Ramona Giwargis and Josh Barousse, it is a nonprofit news organization focused on local political and business reporting.

Giwargis, who serves as publisher and CEO for San José Spotlight, described the genesis of the organization as a response to community demand.

“The number one concern I was hearing from people I knew in San José was that the B section of the paper was no longer local. There were a lot of stories from different places around the region, but people were very hungry for San José stories specific to our city,” she said. “I felt there was a lack of information about what the government was doing and the everyday impact it has. Our goal is to peel away the jargon that often comes with local government, help people understand what those decisions mean in everyday terms and help them get civically involved.”

Barousse, San José Spotlight’s executive director, further explained the organization's community focus, “We want to be more than just a newsroom; we want to have a two-way conversation. A lot of traditional news publications are top-down, just giving readers information, but we want them to be part of the process. We aim to make sure their voices are being heard, that they’re involved.”

That extends to San José Spotlight newsroom composition. Giwargis said they have hired reporters able to speak with and learn from community members on their terms. She said, “We made a deliberate attempt early on to have a diverse newsroom. I, myself, am a woman of color. I’m an immigrant. It was important to us to hire reporters who speak Spanish, who speak Vietnamese, to go into underrepresented and underserved communities, build trust, tell their stories and elevate those voices.”

Giwargis and Barousse are proud of San José Spotlight’s work, and now are developing expansion plans to cover other locales in Silicon Valley.

“We’d love to be in every city, of course,” Giwargis said. “But we wanted to be smart about how we grow, and be sustainable. We’ve been deliberate about being narrow in our scope, very hyperlocal, so we can cover San José the best we can and master that before we expand to other cities.”

East Palo Alto TodayAnother grantee journalism organization taking a hyperlocal approach is the East Palo Alto Center for Community Media, which publishes the free bimonthly East Palo Alto Today newspaper. The EPACCM is led by Henrietta Burroughs, a veteran journalist with experience working for both newspapers and television news.

“I believe the goal of journalists, and what we try to do at the EPACCM, is to give people information to better their lives,” Burroughs said. “Information about their housing, their education, all areas, so they can make better, informed decisions.”

Burroughs said EPA Today was founded to meet demand for local news that serves a specific community that wasn’t being heard, and that the grant from SVCF will allow the newspaper to not only continue its work, but improve and adapt to new challenges.

“As newspapers like ours are challenged now by social media, new technologies and our changing world, we’re trying to figure out how to adapt and survive,” Burroughs said. “[SVCF’s] grant will help give us the resources to make some changes and adaptations. We’d like to update our website. But we’ve also been dependent upon volunteers and contributors, and this will allow us to have some full-time staff, which can only improve our ability to cover issues the way they deserve to be covered.”

SVCF granted more than $300,000 to local journalism organizations this year. See the list of Local Journalism 2021 grantees here.