With 15,000 journalism jobs cut in recent years, hurting the in-depth local news that helps sustain our democracy, more funders are making journalism and media grants. And many of them attended a Monday morning session on the topic at the Council on Foundations conference in Philadelphia for a robust discussion on the opportunities and challenges of media grant making.
The session, “Informed and Engaged Communities through Journalism and Media Grant Making,” was designed to provoke questions from the foundations thinking about making such work and answers from the foundations making media grants. Here’s a sample of the conversation:
How does media grant making fit into overall foundation strategy? Media funding can help reach any strategic goal. Good urban planning is important to The William Penn Foundation, so it funds an informative site called Plan Philly; another funder interested in homelessness supports coverage of the topic area on a Connecticut news site.
How do you go about producing content that is relevant to your audience? Stay close to your audience, said Knight Foundation’s Paula Ellis. They will guide you so that you don’t overbuild a site that solves a problem nobody has.
How do you sustain news sites once foundation funding ends? Diversify funding sources, between ad sales and public radio type funding models and others. Also, make sure the people who run the site have business sense, and that slices of the budget are spent on marketing and other business areas. Said one audience member: We had two experiences with fine journalists, one of them after three years barely knows he has to hire someone to work on sustainability. In the other case the person transformed himself into a fabulous entrepreneur. You have to build it in to how you think about the project.
How do you go about making partnerships with traditional media: The California Endowment, which promotes community health, works with local newspapers to create and fund community health beats. Mary Lou Fulton said while the Endowment respects journalists’ independence, they do negotiate the scope of coverage so that it goes far beyond the typical coverage of health care reform, weight loss and yoga.
Read through the entire conversation on the session’s liveblog here.
For more tips on funding in this area, download the booklet “Journalism and Media Grant Making, Five Things You Need to Know, Five Ways to Get Started.”