CatchLight Local: A Visual Storytelling Initiative

CatchLight Local, a new visual storytelling initiative in partnership with the GroundTruth Project seeks to reseed visual journalism at the local level. CatchLight Local is a place-based program that connects powerful visual storytellers directly with local newsrooms and community members to strengthen trust and address critical issues. The resulting visual stories and collaborations will establish vital common ground for diverse insights and possible solutions in a local context. It launches in 2019 with a pilot in the Bay Area, focusing on the topic of economic inequality and inclusion.

This fall we will be partnering three CatchLight Local Fellows with Bay Area local newsrooms, The Salinas Californian, Bay City News Foundation, and the San Francisco Public Press for three months (September 2019 — December 2019) to visualize stories of economic inequality. Selected Fellows will receive a $15,000 stipend, personalized project development, community engagement and distribution opportunities from CatchLight, GroundTruth, and designated local newsroom partners.

We face not a broad crisis of “the news” or “content”— but something much more specific: a shortage of local, professional accountability reporting. This is likely to lead to more government waste, more local corruption, worse schools, a less-informed electorate, and other serious problems in communities.
— Information Needs Communities, FCC Report

visual storyteller

CatchLight Local Fellows work directly with local newsrooms and community members to strengthen trust and address critical local issues.


CatchLight Local Newsrooms collaborate with visual journalists to document under-reported perspectives of critical social issues. Interested in participating?


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Why catchlight local?

For nearly a decade, we have witnessed how the collapse of trustworthy, local journalism has been a detriment to our democracy and our society. But what is less often recognized is the parallel, or perhaps even more pronounced, the decline of photojournalism.

The facts are staggering:

  • Since 2004, the United States has lost 1800 local newspapers, including 14 in the Bay Area.

  • Between 2008 and 2017 the total newsroom staffing almost halved, dropping from 71,000 employees to 39,000, according to a Pew analysis of U.S. Bureau of  Labor Statistics data.

  • According to the ASNE Census data, visual departments got hit harder than any other part of the newsrooms. Visual journalists declined by 52% when overall newsroom staffs declined by 40% in the last 20 years.

  • The decline in local media is one of the important factors leading to the decline of the professional visual storytelling field overall.  

  • According to the US Department of Labor’s  Occupational Outlook Handbook, the photography profession will lose another 6% of its workforce between 2016 and 2026.

The initiative's long term goal is to transform the local news and media landscape with new community-based visual practices. It will impact stakeholders differently: For members of the public, it will promote a more nuanced and complex understanding of their community and how it is represented in local media. For visual storytellers, it will provide support and ultimately elevate their craft and careers through editing and amplification of their work. And for the media, it will provide visual tools that better articulate the issues at stake and provide new avenues for community engagement. Finally, a central component of this initiative is to build relationships and direct links between news media organizations, visual journalists and the communities they serve.

How it works

CatchLight Local is a place-based initiative that seeks to reseed visual storytelling at the local level by connecting powerful visual storytelling directly with local newsrooms and community members. The CatchLight Local Initiative encompasses several key components:

  • Open Call: From June 6, 2019 to July 10, 2019 CatchLight and The GroundTruth Project invite visual storytellers to apply to an open call for visual projects, with each application articulating how they need to be supported - if they wish to be paired with a reporter from a local newsroom to pitch and cover an issue, or partner with the newsroom on a story they have already developed. A community information session will be held June 26, 2019 at SF Camerawork giving the opportunity for community organizations, news rooms and visual storytellers to meet and exchange.

  • Local Content Production: Selected visual storytellers will receive a $15,000 stipend to work in communities, with the support of their partner newsroom and CatchLight’s staff to document under-reported perspectives of critical social issues in a local context. Participating local newsrooms will contribute 50% of their selected CatchLight Local Fellow’s stipend.

  • Public Dialogue: During the CatchLight Local fellowship each visual storyteller will initiate a “town hall” or community meeting where their work is presented as a work-in-progress and community members are invited to respond and share their own experiences.

  • Engagement & Editorial Support: CatchLight Local’s Visual Editors and Impact Producer will support visual storytellers to improve the quality of their work as well as think through community engagement opportunities and distribution methods. Select projects and research on the pilot initiative will also be presented at CatchLight’s annual Visual Storytelling Summit in San Francisco to support growth toward high impact models in the field overall.


CatchLight Local’s pilot program will fortify community-engaged creative practices and produce nuanced visual stories to better equip communities and policymakers to understand problems and pursue viable solutions. Paired with newsrooms including CALmatters, The Salinas Californian and Bay City News Service, selected Fellows will work on long-term visual stories representing how economic inequality directly affects their communities.

According to a study conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area by the Brookings Institution, families on the high end of the income spectrum earn 11 times more than families on the low end — making it the third most unequal region in the U.S. One-third of residents in the Bay Area — nearly 2 million people — struggle to make ends meet. As local political debates suggest, many residents struggle to afford the costs of housing, transportation, childcare, food, and healthcare in this strong economy, and that number has risen dramatically in the past 10 years. Two-thirds of these struggling families have at least one adult with a job. This suggests a need for more reasonable living expenses, more jobs that pay a living wage, and more education, training, or supports for workers so that adults can access better jobs.


The Bay Area faces stark racial disparities. Nearly half of all black and Hispanic residents in the San Francisco and San Jose metro areas do not earn enough to meet daily living expenses. Yet no group is immune to the struggles of making ends meet in this region: nearly one in four white and Asian residents also don’t earn enough to achieve self-sufficiency, representing half of the total struggling population.

Research & Infographic originally published by Amy Liu on Click here to access the full report.


CatchLight local is supported by:

Questions? Contact CatchLight Local Program Lead Jenny Jacklin Stratton for more information

Banner image: © 2018 CatchLight Fellow Andrea Bruce