Working with the Greater New Orleans Foundation, The Lens has received a $50,000 matching grant from the Knight Community Information Challenge to enable The Lens to create a searchable database of local  government contracts.

The grant program, part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, aims to improve how people and governments interact by increasing access to local news and information. Ten community-based organizations around the country received awards.

The Lens will use the money to collect and upload as many local government contracts as possible and present them in a way that enables searching and cross-referencing with public officials and agencies. When possible, we’ll get our our information online. Otherwise, we’ll copy or scan the documents in person.

“One of the most basic things you can do to make government more transparent and  accountable is to show how it spends money,” Lens Editor Steve Beatty said. “Our effort will make the documents nearly 100 percent searchable, down to the last sentences, giving the public unprecedented ability to see who’s getting their tax money and what they’re expected to do in return.”

The Lens also will use the grant to see what other types of information can be collected and presented for the public, and to see how such services can create revenue to support our ongoing reporting in our core areas: government accountability, coastal restoration and flood protection, land use, schools and criminal justice.

The grant builds on The Lens’ efforts to increase government transparency and promote access to primary documents. This week, we unveiled a new site search that enables users to comb through any of the hundreds of documents we’ve uploaded, ranging from a major lawsuit on coastal loss to city contracts. To look through the documents, type a term into the search bar at the right of any page, or visit our new Documents page.

Janaya Williams
Janaya Williams

The grant comes at an exciting time for The Lens.

Janaya Williams started this month as audio producer in residence, teaching The Lens how to report and write stories for radio. Those stories will be aired on WWNO-FM. This work is funded through another Knight grant jointly awarded to The Lens, WWNO and NolaVie.

Eileen Loh
Eileen Loh

The first story, about a house that was renovated after being moved to make way for the new hospital complex, aired Thursday morning.

The Lens has brought Eileen Loh on as director of outreach and marketing. Loh will organize in-person events ranging from informal meetings in coffee shops to panel discussions on important public policy matters.

Dennis Persica
Dennis Persica

This summer, Dennis Persica joined the staff as charter schools editor. Persica, a 26-year veteran of The Times-Picayune, oversees about 15 freelancers and citizen journalists who aim to cover every meeting of the approximately 45 charter school boards in New Orleans.

The Lens must raise a $50,000 match for our new grant. How about chipping in?

Steve Myers

Steve Myers was editor of The Lens. Before joining the staff in 2012, Myers was managing editor of Poynter Online, the preeminent source of news and training about the journalism industry. At Poynter,...