Announcing the Winners of Our Micro-grants to Inform the Public about COVID-19

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, a collaboration between Columbia Journalism School and Stanford University’s School of Engineering, is pleased to announce its COVID-19 Micro-grant recipients.

Just ten days ago, we announced the Micro-grant Call for Proposals not knowing what to expect. A week later, we had over 325 proposals from around the globe. Proposals included journalistic investigations of the unexpected stresses the virus places on our social, political and economic systems. Some sought to support underserved communities through new collaborations, new forms of storytelling, and sometimes just simple capacity building. Misinformation about COVID-19 was a common foe in these proposals, with teams looking to a variety of disciplines for solutions. And data journalism and novel visualizations emerged as an inevitable tool for keeping the public informed.  

After much deliberation, we are pleased to announce five winners, who will each receive $5,000 to support their proposal, and five runners-up.

Please join us in congratulating them on an incredible collection of projects! We are grateful for everyone who applied — the field was incredibly diverse.


Collateral damage – tracking domestic violence under lockdown in Italy, led by Ottavia Spaggiari

Italy is approaching its third week of national lockdown. It is the country recording the highest number of Coronavirus deaths and the second nation after China with the highest number of cases. The shelter-in- place order came as a decision to preserve the country’s universal health care system brought close to a breaking point by the virus and, ultimately, to protect the entire population. Staying at home, however, does not mean staying safe for everybody.

Italy has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Europe. In Italy, lockdown measures forced many shelters to close their doors to new arrivals. This grant will support a deeply reported interactive longform piece, mapping the tools developed by Italian organizations and activists to help women survive the lockdown, while monitoring the number of domestic violence victims who seek help in this crisis.

Retro Report-Twitter Thread: Disseminating breaking news surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, led by Kyra Danton and Craig T. McMurray of Retro Report

Since the outbreak of the virus, Retro Report has been dedicated to reporting that uses facts from history daily to combat coronavirus misinformation. One of the tools we use in disseminating accurate, useful information and data is Twitter, which has spawned a whole new culture of global connectivity. This micro-grant will extend Retro Report’s use of historical reporting to provide fact-based information that will work to put the coronavirus and surrounding issues in proper context.

Community Reporting in Rural Southeast Alaska, led by Becky Meiers, KCAW-FM

KCAW-FM, is a public radio station owned and operated by the Raven Radio Foundation, Inc. of Sitka, Alaska. KCAW serves Sitka and seven other communities, from Yakutat to Port Alexander — roughly the same distance between Washington, DC, and Columbus, Ohio. However, for those communities outside of Sitka, there is no other media source, and limited and unreliable internet. Despite the remoteness of these communities, they are incredibly vulnerable to the contagion. Sitka is the hub for a regional health consortium, but many of the outlying communities do not have regular health service or facilities. The Micro-grant will support reporting factual information about COVID-19 to its listening communities.

Coronavirus in the Mississippi River Basin: Dual Risks of a Pandemic and Flooding, led by Clarisa Diaz and Lydia McMullen-Laird

Healthcare workers and emergency funds are already stretched thin from the coronavirus outbreak, but in the Midwest and the South, many towns are bracing for potentially devastating flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a forecast last week that predicts moderate to severe flooding in 23 states, with the most vulnerable states along the Mississippi River Basin. This story will document the struggle of communities and governments in Louisiana and possibly other communities along the Mississippi River basin (depending on where the outbreak and flooding hits hardest over the coming weeks).

OpenNews: Peer support for local data journalists covering COVID-19, led by Sisi Wei and Ryan Pitts, OpenNews

As newsrooms across the world race to respond to this fast changing story, many news organizations only have one or two data journalists on staff, and on their own, these journalists are trying to make sense of this data and share it with their local communities in a clear and actionable way. This project focuses on two targeted areas of support amidst the wealth of ideas emerging in other efforts: a support gap in smaller newsrooms, and peer review. This effort will specifically be focused on COVID-19 related stories, and we already have nearly a dozen peer coaches ready to offer help to local data journalists.


We had so many amazing applications that we felt compelled to award runners-up as well. These projects again show inspiration and commitment to providing the public with timely information about COVID-19. Congratulations to this great group of journalists and innovators.

The Economics of Covid-19, led by Dan Zehr of  the Texas Observer/Capital of Texas Media Foundation

COVID-19 Radio Programs in Africa, led by Ashley Ellis of Children’s Radio Foundation

Supercharging Community Engagement with AI, led by Jennifer Brandel, Kavya Sukumar, Kaori Freda of Hearken; Ashley Alvarado, Kristen Muller of KPCC; and John Keefe and Jeremy Merrill of Quartz

Quality information about COVID-19 in Brazilian YouTube, led by Dr Chico Q. Camargo and BláBláLogia

COVID-19 coverage in Portland, Oregon, led by William H. Meeker of Willamette Week