In 2013, several media outlets had partnered to form the Detroit Journalism Cooperative (DJC) to report on the city’s future after it had declared bankruptcy. Unfortunately, the project was defunded, but for Bridge (one of the original DJC partners), it was an opportunity to launch BridgeDetroit.
According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, BridgeDetroit has a budget of $5.5 million over five years, including a $2.5 million lead grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Other funders include the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation and the Skillman Foundation.
“BridgeDetroit is a responsive journalism and engagement organization,” said Stephen Henderson, project executive and executive editor. “It is convened around the idea that Detroiters themselves know best about the issues that challenge their lives, the issues that make their lives more difficult or even issues that make their lives better.”
BridgeDetroit officially launched May 19 with a staff of six, although they are also currently in negotiations with several other organizations to share reporters and resources. Henderson said Bridge sought people who were good journalists with deep connections to Detroit. Another main priority was that the staff reflect the city’s diverse population. Team members (all African American or Latino) include managing editor and director Catherine Kelly; engagement director Orlando Bailey; senior reporter Louis Aguilar; reporter and editor Olivia Lewis; and reporter Bryce Huffman.
“In most cities…journalists of color are almost always in the minority. For us, though, the kind of responsive journalism we want to produce wouldn’t really be possible without a staff that reflected the city,” Henderson said.
BridgeDetroit aims to personally engage with Detroiters through community groups, polling, focus groups and more. It is what the organization calls the Community Priorities Model, which will guide their coverage. But due to COVID-19, BridgeDetroit has had to communicate with community leaders via phone calls and Zoom for the time being.
While BridgeDetroit began with philanthropic support, it has adopted Bridge’s business model, which also includes membership/subscriptions and sponsorships. At three weeks, BridgeDetroit had gained about 100 donors and 1,000 subscribers.
“The early enthusiasm for BridgeDetroit tells us we’re on the right track. Detroiters are responding to our model, and to the early work,” Henderson said. “We now have a lot of hard work ahead, living up to the goals we’ve set, and continuing to build the relationships that will matter with Detroiters.”