Flatwater Free Press revitalizes Nebraska journalism

In September 2021, USA Today published a story on a Lakota family’s conflict with a Nebraska school after staff cut their daughters’ hair without permission. The story was not the work of an out-of-state reporter stopping in flyover country for a quick byline, but a homegrown effort originally published by a then-new nonprofit news outlet.

The article exemplifies The Flatwater Free Press’ mission to cover stories from across Nebraska, not just Omaha and Lincoln. Executive Director Matt Wynn and Editor Matthew Hansen, former Omaha World-Herald columnist, aim to tell stories other outlets aren’t, particularly those happening in Greater Nebraska or involving historically excluded populations. Flatwater’s articles are published under a Creative Commons license, allowing Nebraska newspapers and broadcasters to use them at no cost.

“We are sincere in our desire to do what’s not being done,” Wynn said. “We’re a nonprofit, we’re not chasing clicks. So, if we see there’s a story that’s important, but we think somebody else is on it, we’re going to give them every opportunity to do that first. If there’s another way to do it, if there’s an angle that hasn’t been done, then we’ll step in.”

They are indeed finding new ways to tell Nebraska’s stories—so much, in fact, that staff more than doubled within months. Flatwater Free Press now employs two full-time reporters, a business development advisor, an events coordinator, and a grant writer, along with a cadre of freelancers.

Wynn, a former USA Today editor and Omaha World-Herald reporter, said NCF’s assistance was vital while building the foundation for Flatwater. Beyond financial management, the NCF network and its leadership form a vast statewide source network, a must for good journalism. Within Flatwater’s first few months of existence, Wynn, Hansen, and other staff members had already held community meetings in Norfolk, McCook, and Nebraska City, thanks in part to NCF connections.

“NCF helps us see the forest for the trees,” Wynn said. “That’s invaluable. We know NCF knows the entire state. If we want to do outreach in a community, we can shortcut right to the answer.”

Wynn and company are setting an example for nonprofit journalism in Nebraska, but Wynn wants to bring something new to the table with Flatwater. Beyond telling important stories and casting a spotlight on issues, Wynn wants to see journalists reckon not just with problems but also solutions.

“I think there’s a real aspect to journalism that is unexplored, especially in Nebraska,” Wynn said. “It’s great that you’ve shown us those problems. How do we fix it?”

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