Community-Focused Newsrooms Face New Challenges During Pandemic

Journalists Orlando Bailey and Candice Fortman discuss how their news organizations have been able to bring the community together in a time of social distancing.

Community-focused journalism is crucial to representing community interests, but the pandemic has made it significantly more difficult to build those connections. Journalists from Bridge Detroit and Outlier Media share how their organizations adapted to continue serving Detroit residents and deliver community-based news amid physical distancing. 

“I want to make sure residents in our neighborhood know and understand that this is a newsroom that’s yours.” –Orlando Bailey, Bridge Detroit

Listen: How community-based news organizations have adapted to the pandemic.


Orlando Bailey is the engagement director of Bridge Detroit and host of the Authentically Detroit podcast. He says Bridge Detroit has had a unique experience during this time. “This year has been fun, Bridge Detroit started right on the brink of the pandemic. Our staff has only seen each other maybe three times … so it’s been an interesting time.”

After initially adapting, Bailey says the organization has been successfully reaching into the community. “It was a slow moving train but the train got moving … one of the things we heard from residents was of course concerns about COVID-19, but another interesting finding was that folks were very curious around neighborhood development.”

Courtesy Candice Fortman
Courtesy Candice Fortman

With Michigan restrictions slowly being lifted, Bailey says the organization is looking forward to in-person connections. “I’m excited for the possibility of coming together. One of the sensibilities that I have is a real technological gap in communities where a lot of residents won’t join me on Zoom … that’s really weighing on me.” He says he wants to foster more than just transactional relationships with the community. “I want to make sure residents in our neighborhood know and understand that this is a newsroom that’s yours,” he says.

Candice Fortman is executive director of Outlier Media. She says the organization’s outreach advancements are needed now more than ever. “The pandemic was a grounding of our model … Detroiters who never had a problem providing food for their families [suddenly did]. We reconfigured our SMS text message service to include more beats. That [existing] model just needed to be massaged.”

Fortman says Outlier’s SMS system is the key to connecting with Detroit residents. “All credit to our reporting staff who sits in that system … who [are] monitoring that service and answering questions.” 

As per the “MI Vacc to Normal Plan,” Michigan offices can begin welcoming back employees soon. “Our team might be able to see each other … we are starting to look at office space again. There’s really nothing like the buzz of a newsroom … and bringing our community that we serve back together,” Fortman says.

The Outlier newsroom is ready to continue creating conversations that Detroiters care about, says Fortman. “I think we have to make space for what people are feeling … the shared trauma in the Detroit community is very real.”

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