El Paso Matters education reporter Jewél Jackson, left, interviews graduate Monica Vargas at the University of Texas at El Paso's commencement ceremony on May 14. (Corrie Boudreaux)

El Paso Matters has received a $1 million grant from the American Journalism Project, the first news organization in Texas to win support from the nation’s largest journalism venture philanthropy organization.

The American Journalism Project announced three new grant recipients on Thursday, bringing the total number of news organizations it is supporting to 22.

“This grant is a game-changer for El Paso Matters. It will allow us to build revenue strategies and business practices that will help us build a sustainable news organization that will provide important journalism to El Paso and the border region for years to come,” said Robert Moore, the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters, which began publishing in February 2020.

Other grant recipients announced Thursday included Mountain State Spotlight in West Virginia and a partnership between Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

“El Paso Matters, Mountain State Spotlight, Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service are part of a new generation of organizations that is leading us to reimagine local news in service of communities,” said Sarabeth Berman, CEO of American Journalism Project. “El Paso Matters is doing vital reporting on a region with national and international importance, but with a nuanced local lens for a local audience. The remarkable partnership between Wisconsin Watch and Neighborhood News Service is demonstrating how accountability reporting and community news work together to deliver crucial information to residents, and Mountain State Spotlight is making sure that West Virginians have the reporting they need to shape the future of their state.”

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The American Journalism Project was founded in 2019 to “sustain and grow an independent local press by building business and technology capacity in local nonprofit news organizations.” The fund focuses on making “course-altering grants to exceptional civic news organizations.”

El Paso Matters will use the American Journalism Project grant to create several new revenue development positions, business management positions and to build brand awareness, Moore said.

“I am proud that the American Journalism Project’s first investment in Texas is in El Paso and the U.S.-Mexico border region. The grant is a recognition of the important work that our journalists have done over the past 18 months, but also of the importance of the border region in our nation’s future,” Moore said.

El Paso Matters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that focuses on in-depth and investigative reporting about the El Paso region. Unlike traditional for-profit media companies, El Paso Matters relies primarily on memberships and philanthropy to fund its work. It does not charge for access to its journalism.

El Paso Matters journalist Dani Prokop photographs the release of water from Caballo Dam in New Mexico on May 31. Prokop is the only El Paso journalist dedicated to covering the environment and climate change. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Even with the large grant from the American Journalism Project, the long-term success of El Paso Matters will rely heavily on memberships and philanthropic gifts, particularly from El Paso and other parts of the border region, Moore said. El Paso Matters also is setting up a sponsorship program that will allow businesses to support nonprofit journalism while also getting messages to key audiences, he said.

People can become members of El Paso Matters by making any financial contribution. 

Along with the American Journalism Partnership grants, a new partnership between Microsoft and the American Journalism Project will provide program funding along with technology, legal and business services to local news collaboratives in El Paso/Ciudad Juárez and Northeast Wisconsin, which are being led by El Paso Matters and Wisconsin Watch, respectively. The partnership is part of Microsoft’s Journalism Initiative, a program launched in 2020 to address the challenges facing local journalism.

“Healthy democracies require healthy journalism,” said Mary Snapp, vice president of strategic initiatives at Microsoft. “We’re determined to help support newsrooms with digital tools, technology and funding. With this exciting partnership with the American Journalism Project, we aim to help ensure journalism’s vitality for years to come.”

Cover photo: El Paso Matters education reporter Jewél Jackson, left, interviews graduate Monica Vargas at the University of Texas at El Paso’s commencement ceremony on May 14. Jackson is the first El Paso journalist in more than two decades to focus on higher education. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)