3 winners of private equity reporting grants announced

David Harm waters plants outside of his home in the Ridgeview Homes mobile home community in Lockport, N.Y., in 2022. The plight of residents at Ridgeview is playing out nationwide as institutional investors, led by private equity firms and real estate trusts and sometimes funded by pension funds, swoop in to buy mobile home parks. (AP Photo/Lauren Petracca)

The Poynter Institute and the Omidyar Network have announced the winners of three reporting grants focusing on private equity.

The grants were born out of Poynter’s Beat Academy webinar series, which seeks to empower reporters to smartly cover new, emerging and evolving newsroom beats by providing them high-level access to experts and resources.

These three $15,000 grants will benefit three newsrooms that are reporting on private equity.

The winners and their projects are:

Hawaii Business Magazine

Hawaii Business Magazine will take a deep dive into private equity’s ownership and financing of Hawaii’s hotels and how that impacts tens of thousands of local hotel workers and the overall state economy. In some cases, private equity investors have turned around failing resorts, but that isn’t always the way it goes. As residents demand a tourism industry that better focuses on sustainability and the long term, Hawaii Business aims to provide a full accounting of the impacts of outside ownership of Hawaii’s hotel industry and any excessive focus on short-term profits.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

In certain American cities, the latest factor pushing homeownership further out of reach is the expansion of single-family rentals. Corporations flush with investor funding are outbidding individual households and turning owner-occupied homes into rentals. A partnership between Milwaukee’s main newspaper and the city’s neighborhood-focused nonprofit newsroom MNNS tackles the growing footprint of Vinebrook, an investor-controlled firm that owns about 1,000 homes in the central city part of Milwaukee. Two Journal Sentinel reporters are focused on untangling Vinebrook’s corporate, financial and legal issues, while a MNNS reporter is drilling into the impact the firm has had on neighborhoods.

WFIU/WTIU News, Bloomington, Indiana

Private equity has been no friend to local news. After the internet gutted the traditional business model and hollowed out newsrooms, investors moved in to glean what was left. In south-central Indiana, the regional NPR/PBS newsroom will track the private equity holdings in many local papers, and document the limited coverage of local matters that remains. A package of radio and television stories, and a multimedia website will help residents see what has been lost and how democracy struggles when there are no reporters to share what local officials are doing.

As Beat Academy head Jon Greenberg wrote when the grant opportunities were announced, “​​Private equity’s impact on local communities is a notoriously difficult reporting subject.”

He said newsrooms struggled to define the term, and notes that some newsrooms avoid the subject altogether due to the challenges involved and the opaque nature of the growing industry — a $4.4 trillion one.

“But private equity firms are having significant, negative impacts on rural hospitals, nursing homes and residential centers for the disabled,” he wrote. “In cities like Charlotte, Dallas and Phoenix, investors play an outsized role in the housing market, making it even harder for first-time buyers, raising costs for renters and pushing evictions.”