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When a powerful storm knocked out power for days across Milwaukee in August, vulnerable residents faced a multi-pronged disaster. The outage left thousands without air conditioning during the hottest stretch of the year, while food spoiled in the refrigerators of people who already had trouble affording groceries.
Connecting residents with credible information about power outages, finding cooling centers and free meals and replacing spoiled groceries became critical. Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS) sprung into action through News414, a service journalism collaboration that delivers actionable information to traditionally underserved residents.
Reporters quickly published and repeatedly updated a list of resources and answers to common questions on the NNS website and in a News414 Facebook group that now has 700-plus members. That information was widely read and shared online, including by service agencies that serve vulnerable populations. Recognizing that some residents lacked internet access — particularly during the power outage — we also texted the information to about 1,300 people, inviting them to connect with a reporter if they had additional questions or problems.
Several residents who rely on state food assistance told us that they didn’t know there was a way to apply for replacement funds for spoiled groceries — until we told them. “Thank you for your message as I didn’t know it could be replaced,” one person texted. “I really appreciate it.”
The storm vividly illustrated why engagement-driven service journalism is important. But we recognize that some Milwaukeeans face slow-moving crises each day, including a lack of access to food, housing, health services and everything in between. We launched News414 last year to respond to those crises as well — and to watchdog the systems that fail to deliver for residents.
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At Wisconsin Watch’s News414, help is on the way! is a post from WisconsinWatch.org, a non-profit investigative news site covering Wisconsin since 2009. Please consider making a contribution to support our journalism.