MILWAUKEE — Inside Marquette University’s Johnston Hall, a row of awards adorn the wall before you head into a unique 4th-floor room. You can hear fingers typing, doing the work that won so many awards.
“The first draft of history. That’s somebody's quote," Matt Martinez, a reporter with the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service (NNS), said.
The NNS specifically focuses on under-reported neighborhoods in Milwaukee. The stories are published on milwaukeenns.org.
"I think we're just able to add a little bit of depth and add a portrait of the neighborhoods that people might not be able to get otherwise," he said.
Matt added that he is able to truly embed himself into the communities he is covering. He said he stays back after a scene to talk with anyone still there.
"We try and find the people who just have not been able to kind of get their voice out there and be heard," he said.
The name describes what they do - Milwaukee, neighborhood, news, and service. Its three core tenants are: education, celebration, and illumination. They educate and provide solutions, they celebrate extraordinary work by ordinary people, and they illuminate what's happening around us.
“Really focusing on issues on the North Side and the South Side," editor and program director Ron Smith said.
The NNS is coming up on a big milestone: 10 years of being embedded in those communities.
“We publish not for profit but to empower and to inform the community," Ron said.
That's not just a figure of speech. They truly are a nonprofit. While it is located inside Johnston Hall on Marquette's campus, it is not funded by the university. It survives off donations and grants from local organizations like the Zilber Family Foundation and Greater Milwaukee Foundation. The entire staff is part-time except for two reporters. Matt is one of those full-time journalists.
Their work isn’t just published on their website. At TMJ4, we have a news partnership with them and feature their reports. Matt’s story was recently on the front page of the Journal Sentinel too.
“We exist because we want to tell the full story of the neighborhoods. We are here not for drama and trauma, you know, we’re about representation," Ron said.
In fact, the makeup of the NNS newsroom quite accurately reflects the neighborhoods it covers. A majority of the reporters are Black and Brown.
"A lot of newsrooms last year had this racial rechecking. We have to do better. We didn’t have that at NNS. We’ve been Black and Brown for a long time."
He references a push for media organizations to have a more racially diverse staff. To be able to tell the stories of the neighborhood, one has to understand the neighborhood. That's why the reporters aren't often in the newsroom; rather, they are in the community meeting with locals to establish a genuine connection.
"We are the gateway to the central city by providing that complete portrait that everyone else would miss," Ron said.
Reporters like Matt are the voice for the people who have never gotten to tell their story.
“It’s more than just a news service," Matt Martinez said.
And the NNS will continue to be that voice for the next 10 years.