Topeka native leads Facebook effort to keep you informed

Published: Apr. 16, 2020 at 11:14 PM CDT
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Topeka native Josh Mabry did what many New Yorkers have done during the coronavirus pandemic - adopted a dog!

"He has been my literal constant companion," he said as Milo darted behind him and onto the couch while he spoke with 13 NEWS via Zoom.

In the nation's epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, the city that never sleeps is on pause.

"The streets have a lot less traffic. Everybody's wearing masks," Mabry said. "I recognize it at night when I'm in bed, and you can often hear the noise of the city, and you just don't hear any of that."

Mabry says he is working from home and basically goes out only to walk the dog. He knows people who have had COVID-19, and, fortunately, have recovered.

"I don't feel personally in danger but there is this underlying stress and anxiety that just kinda doesn't go away," he said.

In staying at home, Mabry is among those keeping everyone else connected. He leads Facebook's local news partnerships team.

"It's one thing to watch the news and see how this is playing out on the national level, but where it really matters to you as an individual is how it's playing out in your own backyard and in your own neighborhood, and I think, in a lot of ways, Facebook becomes that conduit for people," he said.

Mabry and his team help local news organizations use Facebook to connect to their communities, ensuring people have sources for accurate information.

'This is certainly a moment where people are hungry for local news," he said.

But local news is stretched thin as struggling businesses scale back advertising. Facebook launched a new $25 million grant program to offset those losses and support local news organizations as they work to report information on how the pandemic is impacting their communities.

It's Facebook's second round of COVID relief grants. Five Kansas organizations were among recipients in the first round: The Community Voice, Wichita; Harvey County Now, Newton; High Plains Public Radio, Garden City; Kansas Public Telecommunications Service, Wichita; and KMUW, Wichita.

"(Local news organizations) are doing the work that informs everybody at home so that we know what decisions we should be making, we know how this pandemic is playing out where we live so that we can keep our friends safe, we can keep our families safe," Mabry said. "That information is critical and that's information that (local news organizations) are uniquely positioned to provide. From a Facebook standpoint, we want to do a small part to help support that work."

As for keeping himself safe, he says his parents are checking in more frequently, while also becoming advocates for COVID-prevention practices back home.

"Because they have such a vested interest in me obviously and have been following along so closely with what's happening in New York, they're even more prone to making sure people back home are safe, and they understand what this can be if you don't take the right steps to stay safe," he said.