COVID-19 Response: Brown Institute Issues $25,000 in Micro-Grants

As small media outlets struggle to accurately and thoroughly report on the pandemic, organizations dedicated to supporting the industry are stepping up and acting fast. The Brown Institute recently launched five micro-grants totaling $25,000 dedicated to journalists, technologists, health researchers, data scientists, social scientists, and other professionals covering COVID-19. 

Brown logo

A collaboration between Columbia University and Stanford University, the Brown Institute was established in 2012 to support media innovation. The institute serves as an academic venture forum, offering grants and fellowships through Submittable each year to foster and fund ingenuity. Brown Institute’s Magic Grants, for example, provide year-long awards of up to $150,000 for cutting-edge projects in media technology and journalism.  

What Brown Institute did 

On March 13, 2020, the Brown Institute opened applications for five $5,000 micro-grants to support local news reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Journalistic organizations are seeing a huge spike in traffic but advertising is way down,” says Institute Deputy Director Michael Krisch. “These organizations don’t have the revenue to support the actual reporting that needs to take place to find and tell the stories behind COVID-19.” 

How they did it

The Brown Institute launched their grant opportunity quickly, closing applications one week after they opened. Micro-grant winners were selected three days later. Within ten days, five grantees were announced, with proposed reporting to cover topics such as domestic violence during lockdown in Italy, the importance of Twitter right now, and the risks of a pandemic accompanied by potential flooding in the Mississippi River Basin.

According to Krisch:

We did the grants rapidly to be as responsive as possible to organizations that are wanting to build things and report on aspects of this story but have zero resources to do so. That was our rationale for doing a sprint to try and award these as quickly as possible.

Application requirements were succinct: a one page proposal and a CV or Resume.

The institute’s review board spent long hours over a weekend selecting five winners and five runner-ups from among 325 applications. 

When asked how the foundation spread the word about this opportunity, Krisch says, “We primarily just tapped our networks. There’s such demand and need for authentic reporting and data collection around this effort that I think any sort of award to support that is as highly sought after.”

What’s next

The Brown Institute is working to fund these micro-grants right away, given the intensity of need and the importance of the supported stories.

The media is under intense pressure to respond quickly to COVID-19 and funding opportunities from organizations like the Brown Institute are vital.

“The industry,” says Krisch, “is being very shaken and is trying to figure out how to balance resources in a time where there’s so much traffic and so much reporting needs to happen about the impact of the virus.”

Learn about how Submittable is helping organizations respond to COVID-19. For more on organizations like Brown Institute giving back through COVID-19 grants, check out this recent spotlight

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is a Special Projects Editor at Submittable. She also writes and teaches poetry. Connect with her on LinkedIn.