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[Breaking News] An Extraordinary Funding Opportunity For Nonprofits To Preserve Local Journalism

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Nonprofits focused on the preservation of local journalism are being called to step up, and many of the country’s largest private foundations have announced $500 million in funding over five years to support them, an extraordinary initiative called Press Forward.

Press Forward seeks to reverse the dramatic decline in local news that has coincided with an increasingly divided America and weakening trust in institutions.

What’s the problem?

Around 2,200 local newspapers have closed since 2005, resulting in 20 percent of Americans living in “news deserts” with little to no reliable coverage of important local events. Press Forward seeks to stop and reverse that trend. 

Press Forward highlights

$500 million over five years committed by twenty-two major US foundations including the MacArthur Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of NY, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to name a few.

Press Forward funders have coalesced around an aspirational goal to move from individual grantmaking strategies to a shared vision and coordinated action.

The first grants are to be awarded later this year.

John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation, calls the philanthropic funding “seed money,” not charity.

4 funding priorities

Press Forward partners have identified the following priorities and have committed to making grants in one or more of these four areas of focus:

  1. Strengthen local newsrooms that have trust in local communitites
  2. Accelerate the enabling environment for news production and dissemination
  3. Close longstanding inequalities in journalism coverage and practice
  4. Advance public policies that expand access to local news and civic information

Troubling trends

The decline in local news coverage has been a concern in many cities and towns across the United States. Here are common trends and examples of areas where local news coverage has waned:

  • Rural areas: Many local newspapers and broadcast stations in rural areas have closed or reduced their coverage due to declining readership and advertising revenue.
  • Media deserts in small and mid-sized cities: Local news outlets in smaller cities and towns have also struggled to stay afloat, leading to cuts in reporting staff and reduced coverage. Certain regions, often referred to as “media deserts,” have limited or no access to local news coverage. This can include parts of the Midwest and rural areas in various states.
  • Consolidation and economics: Media consolidation has led to a concentration of ownership, resulting in the centralization of newsrooms and a reduction in local reporting. Economic downturns have had a significant impact on the sustainability of local news outlets, leading to layoffs and closures in many areas.
  • Digital disruption: The rise of digital platforms and online advertising has disrupted traditional revenue models for local news, making it difficult for many outlets to adapt.
  • Decline in newspapers: Local newspapers, in particular, have seen a significant decline in circulation and ad revenue, resulting in the downsizing or shuttering of newspapers. Many journalists have been laid off or have left the industry, leading to a reduction in local reporting.
  • Loss of investigative reporting: Investigative journalism, which is often resource-intensive, has suffered in many areas, leading to reduced oversight of local government and institutions.
  • Lack of competition: In some areas, there is only one dominant local news outlet, reducing competition and potentially leading to a lack of diversity in reporting.

Nonprofits are being asked to address these challenges and find sustainable models for local journalism. 

Nonprofit action

In the face of these troubling trends, nonprofit organizations are pivotal in the Press Forward funders views of what’s needed.

Here are ways nonprofits can contribute to the preservation of local journalism:

  • Funding and grants: Nonprofits with education missions can apply for the available Press Forward funding and secure a five-year grant. 
  • Collaborative reporting: Nonprofits can facilitate partnerships between different news organizations to pool resources, share content, and cover stories more effectively.
  • Training and capacity building: Offer training programs, workshops, and resources for journalists to improve their skills, adapt to new technologies, and stay competitive.
  • Research and advocacy: Conduct research on the state of local journalism, produce reports, and advocate for policies that support the industry. 
  • Community engagement: Nonprofits can support initiatives that engage the public in the news-making process, such as town hall meetings, citizen journalism projects, or community media literacy programs. They can also invest in innovative projects and experiments that explore new revenue models, storytelling techniques, and technology solutions.
  • Legal defense: Provide legal support for local news outlets facing challenges such as defamation lawsuits, freedom of information requests, or other legal issues that threaten their existence.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Nonprofits can support initiatives that increase representation of underrepresented groups in journalism.
  • Collaboration with academia: Partner with educational institutions to create programs that benefit both students and local journalism. This can include internships, research partnerships, and educational initiatives.
  • Membership and subscription models: Support local news organizations in implementing membership and subscription models to generate sustainable revenue and reduce reliance on advertising.
  • Media literacy: Promote media literacy programs that educate the public about the value of journalism, how to critically evaluate news sources, and how to distinguish between credible and unreliable information.

Nonprofits already at work

In California, a $25 million project is paying for stipends for reporters through the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

In New Jersey, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, is funding initiatives to reimagine how public funding can be used to address the growing problem of news deserts and misinformation.

Within our own Bloomerang community we celebrate two nonprofits that are keeping local news alive, 90.7 Hope FM in Port Huron, MI and KAWC Colorado River Public Media in Yuma, Arizona.

90.7 Hope FM is a local media ministry that encourages families through today’s worship, contemporary music, and relevant programs.

KAWC Colorado River Public Media is dedicated to educating, informing, and entertaining their listeners through high-quality radio and internet broadcasts. They serve the diverse needs of their audience with music, news, public affairs, and fine arts programming.

By undertaking this funding and these initiatives, nonprofit organizations can contribute significantly to the preservation of local journalism, ensuring that communities have access to accurate, independent, and accountable reporting.

What do you think about these trends and funding for the preservation of local journalism? Will your nonprofit apply? Please share your thoughts below.

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