Two Columbus Women Are Bringing Community Back To The Heart Of Local Journalism

A journalist and a public policy professional teamed up to create a news organization that does more than just document history, they want to inspire change with the information they provide the public.

Matter News is a nonprofit, multimedia news organization in Columbus that focuses on one issue at a time. Right now, Matter is covering development and growth in Columbus in a project named DevelopUS.

This means looking at things like income segregation, gentrification, and historic preservation.

Matter News is part of the Grey Matter Media organization that was spearheaded by two incredibly smart and determined women who combined their expertise in the journalism field and local government.

Jaelynn Grisso is the managing director and editor of Matter News and has spent nearly a decade in the journalism industry. She studied journalism at Ohio University which gave her a home in Ohio. Jaelynn said she got her “big break” after the election in 2016 when there was a big “call to arms” to protect journalism due to attacks against the press.

Jaelynn Grisso (left) and Cassie Young (right). Photo by Ris Twigg of Matter News

She started a fellowship in New York with Mother Jones magazine. Jaelynn said she loved Mother Jones magazine but felt like she wasn’t doing her best work. She felt removed from the community and thought she could better utilize her talents elsewhere.

“I feel like there’s a strong saturation of talent on the coasts and I felt like I was becoming part of that,” Jaelynn said.

She moved back to Columbus and worked as a freelancer until she met Cassie Young, who is now a managing director and editor for the DevelopUS project. Jaelynn and Cassie met on a documentary shoot in Columbus and after realizing their combined strengths, decided to create Grey Matter Media. Matter News is currently the biggest project of Grey Matter Media.

Cassie Young has a background in public policy and has profound knowledge of the processes of local government. She holds two master’s degrees and decided to transition from government and social work to journalism.

Cassie wanted to use her knowledge of government workings to help the public have better resources to influence public policy. When she met Jaelynn it was a match made in heaven, she had been looking for a journalist who knew how journalism should work and what the expectations were.

Together they established a goal: to produce news that matters to the community in an accessible way so that community members feel informed about their neighborhood and are inspired to seek the change they deserve.

They created a three-prong model for Matter News. The first element is that the organization is, and always will be, not-for-profit. Nonprofit news helps to maintain editorial independence, Cassie said. The second piece is that Matter News is free and accessible as possible. They don’t want it to be a luxury to be informed about your community. Third, they are issue-based.

“A big issue I have with the local news is it feels like you’re getting a lot of like scattered information on a bunch of different things, but no real depth about anything in particular,” Cassie said.

Their multimedia platform allows them to have a rigorous editing process so that all information is presented in the best format possible for comprehension. They explained that it could be a written story, graphic, game, documentary, podcast, video, etc.

Above is an interactive map that shows the concentrations of income levels in Columbus neighborhoods, created by Jaelynn.

Matter News seeks to investigate the causes of a problem, rather than the symptom, Cassie said. She explained that oftentimes when looking at local issues such as gentrification, solutions get developed based on what’s happened rather than why it’s happening, and then history just repeats itself.

Jaelynn said that this deeper analysis of issue roots is why they classify themselves as investigative journalism, even if not every piece seems investigative in nature.

Jaelynn, Cassie, and the rest of the team at Matter are challenging what it means to be a journalist and raising the bar for the standard of reporting that needs to exists in order for change to really be created. As someone entering the journalism industry, I’m incredibly excited about this.

Matter is heavily self-funded and they also receive funds from one-time and member donations. There are four different membership levels that give you varying benefits like a members-only newsletter and Matter News swag. They are fiscally sponsored by the Institute for Nonprofit News but hope to become their own 501c3 in the future.

When Matter is more financially stable, they hope to be able to create content on two or three issues with their own teams from editors down to reporters. They explained that in theory, they will continue producing content on a topic until the topic is either out of content options or some type of resolution has been made.

All Matter team members are volunteers, doing these projects with their own time and dollar, but the goal is to be financially stable enough to create paid positions one day.

Grey Matter Media is also working on a “Grey Matter Films” project in addition to Matter News that will create full-length documentaries. The DevelopUS project is expected to last for a few more years.

Toward the end of the summer, we’ll see a launch of an email Newsletter that curates content from both Matter and other news organizations regarding development news in Columbus. Their latest big project, a pop-up studio, was recently debuted at Comfest after they received a grant from the festival organization.

Photo by Cassie Young of Matter News

They created a mobile studio that they can take into communities and really interact with community members. The idea is that they will set up their studio for a few hours, or even for a full day, and just open their doors for people to come tell them what they’re really concerned about and what they wish they were better informed about.

“That’s one of the ways that we think we can really make sure we’re not reporting on communities, but actually reporting from communities,” Cassie said. “We’re not expecting them to come to us or for them to seek us out, but that we’re actually actively giving them an opportunity to engage in their own neighborhood.”

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