2020 Knight Media Forum Scribe Notes

Title of Session: How local funders can support local journalism
Leaders: Sherrie Arb, Community Foundation for SoutheastMichigan, Melissa Milios Davis, Gates Family Foundation and Michael Murphy, The Cleveland Foundation
Scribe: Grace Diffey, Hamilton Community Foundation

Session Summary:

The stories traditionally covered by media are not necessarily the ones that are important to communities. This is particularly true for those communities whose voices are underrepresented – including in newsrooms – and whose stories tend to be told through stereotypes. These communities are also those not always easily reached by traditional and emerging means of information distribution, and thus they may not receive important information. At the same time, it is increasingly difficult for shrinking newsrooms to cover local/hyper-local issues in depth. This session provided the experiences of two community foundations and a private foundation in bridging that gap.

Among the journalism projects supported by The Cleveland Foundation are City Bureau, which brings together journalists and communities to make public meetings more accessible, and the Community Information Needs Collaborative, which encourages collaborative local journalism projects. The foundation also supports programs to cover under-reported but critical issues and to train citizen journalists.

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan operates the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, which aims to increase the quality and reach of journalism in the region, with an emphasis on engagement, innovation and the equitable recovery of Detroit.

The Gates Family Foundation supports a number of journalism projects as an underpinning of their strategic priorities. It has supported boosting quality coverage of rural issues, start-up independent digital news outlets and the Colorado Media Project, which works with news organizations across the state to explore business models, develop collaborations and increase public engagement and funding for local journalism.

Top Insights
  • It is important to find out about the lived experiences of both residents and journalists with respect to local issues. What barriers does each face in exchanging information, e.g. literacy, trust? How do they currently get news and information?
  • One approach to bridging the gap is to identify the sources of information that communities do trust – for instance informal and formal neighborhood leaders – and empower them to have the same access to power and information as other news organizations.
  • Communities may not know what information they are missing, so some facilitation/design thinking with the community may be required. Journalists should be part of this process, to further their thinking on how to tell what is happening in local news, and stories that are important to, or that affect, disenfranchised populations.
  • Collaborations are important – with other funders, and between media outlets. Institutions such as libraries and universities can also be important partners. “Media outliers” can be good candidates for funding: e.g.– issue-based publications, cultural publications, ethnic media, neighborhood start-ups, rural publications as well as legacy media.
  • Training citizen journalists includes how to document information, and also how to get their message out. Helping citizens to tell their own stories creates more engaged citizens. Good journalism is a lever for democracy.
  • There is not one business model that works for every community. You have to do the research to find what is right for you.
Experts in this field
  • City Bureau’s (citybureau.org) Documenter program, which originated in Chicago and trains and compensates citizen journalists. Now being replicated in Cleveland, Detroit and Akron. Documenter.org illustrates the structure
  • Knight Foundation
  • Stefanie Murray at the Center for Cooperative Media – assisted Cleveland Foundation with the launch of their program by bringing together local neighborhood information together with legacy media
Next Steps

Do local research: What are the important issues of your community that aren’t getting told? How people are getting their information now?  What information they are not getting? What formal and informal news/information eco-systems exist in your community and how you can bring them together with citizens?

Title of session: Charlotte Collaboration and Community Engagement Through Media Partnership
Leaders: Glenn Burkins, QCityMetro; Sherry Chisenhall, Charlotte Observer; David Boraks, WFAE. Moderator: Charles Thomas, Knight Foundation
Scribe: Mary Grace Roske

Session Summary:

Charlotte is a rapidly-growing city and one of the community’s greatest challenges is the availability of affordable housing for people facing growing economic immobility. The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative was established to explore and demonstrate how journalism could study and stimulate authentic community engagement on the issue of affordable housing. With a $150,000, five-year grant fromKnight Foundation through Solutions Journalism Network, the collaborative was created with nine news and non-news organizations. Its purpose was to develop and share original content on affordable housing and build broader community understanding.Members of the collaborative include The Charlotte Observer, La Noticia, QCity Metro, QNotes, WCNC-TV, and WFAE 90.7FM, as well as the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Free Press, a community-engagement organization.

Top Insights

Effective journalism collaborations are founded with a clear and strong shared vision. In the case of Charlotte, the collaboration came together under the umbrella of a single issue. The partners recognized the critical nature of the issue and the benefits of uniting around this cause. One speaker commented that when you “put the readers first, everyone will benefit.” Partners need to create a Venn Diagram to define the area of shared interest and vision. The question “can we achieve more together or separately?” needs to be answered before a collaborative has a shot at being successful. While the partners’ missions are different, the purpose of the collaborative needs to be shared.

Development of these collaborations can be a challenging process, so stay focused on the common vision and establish a clear memorandum of understanding.  Collaboratives require work and sacrifice. Not all partners are created equal and all will face challenges in executing in the collaboration at some point in time.  The assets they bring will vary in strength and sustainability. It’s important not to focus too much on the requirements sought from each partner but rather recognize each for the unique contribution they provide, whether it be original content, audience, format or platform.  As “frenemies” work together in a collaborative, partners need to put aside those competitive issues and interests for the greater good of the reporting. One participant commented that, “We are in a place in the news business where we need to huddle together for warmth,” capturing the sentiment that the industry will be stronger together. A memorandum of understanding is essential, but it doesn’t have to be overly complex and there is no standard list of provisions or issues to address.  This should all come from the partners and reflect the spirit of their unique collaboration. The most essential focus of a collaborative needs to be the content and the measure of success is content performance.  Is it interesting, relevant and solution-oriented?  If it is, then it will be shared generously by the partners and garner reader engagement across platforms.  Content-sharing can sometimes require creativity, as the Charlotte collaborative is working at better ways to share reporting versus sharing already completed content.  It is also exploring strategies beyond posting that will bring long-form reporting to digital and video to the print platforms.  This content consumption is the overarching metric that should supersede operational metrics.  The goal is to reach a collectively larger audience with compelling content.

Libraries can be an invaluable partner in journalism collaboratives, providing a wealth of support services, instilling credibility and providing a neutral convening location. The local library system is a critical partner because of the variety of roles it plays. The collaborative’s website is housed on the library’s website, serving as a portal to community information and a neutral site unaffiliated with the collaborative’s content producers. The library serves as the collaborative’s meeting hub, as well, providing a neutral location where the participants can come together as partners rather than competitors. The library also appeals to community members accustomed to visiting and meeting at this local institution. The collaborative also shared that after hosting a community meeting with an author, the library was given 500 copies of the book to make available. This distribution channel proved very valuable and allowed the book to reach readers, many times over, who likely would not have purchased it.

Community engagement is essential to building and sustaining an effective journalism collaboration.  The collaborative was established, in part, following research the Charlotte Observer did through a “listening tour” of its market.  This spirit of resident engagement has carried out through the collaborative’s work, through events, interactive web sessions and other tactics. Partners have broadcast morning shows from neighborhoods, sponsored FAQs using the Hearken software and created podcasts to amplify the content and engage the community in meaningful discussions about affordable housing.   

Experts in this field

Members of the collaborative include The Charlotte Observer, La Noticia, QCity Metro, QNotes, WCNC-TV, and WFAE 90.7FM, as well as the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and Free Press, a community-engagement organization. Representatives of these organizations can speak to their experience. Michael Davis is the South Region Manager, Charlotte Journalism Collaborative.

Next Steps

Begin research to conduct a listening tour to determine topics that would be well suited to a journalism collaborative in your region.  Develop strategies to meaningfully engage your community in this process. Through one-on-one meetings, begin talking with your partners in the media about the feasibility of a collaborative and how to best start the conversation opinion leaders and potential funders in your community.

Title of session: Getting results from the ProPublica Local Reporting Network
Leaders: David Hulen, Anchorage Daily News; Charles Ornstein, ProPublica; Wendi C. Thomas, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Moderator: Peter Lattman, Emerson Collective
Scribe: Heidi Williamson, Berks County Community Foundation

Session Summary

The ProPublica Local Reporting Network currently supports 23 projects in communities across the country. Selected projects receive funding for a reporter’s salary for one year and access to tools, data and technical support that aid in the creation of great journalism. MLK50 in Memphis and the Anchorage Daily News are examples of organizations that benefited from ProPublica Local Reporting Network support and as a result produced in-depth coverage on issues important to their respective communities. Grants from organizations like the Emerson Collective support the work of both ProPublica and the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Top Insights
  • ProPublica looks for projects about things that are broken or not working in a community, and where there is an opportunity to make change. When they evaluate potential projects they ask, “Why does this story have to be told now and why does it have to be told in this community?” Projects must have a deep sense of place to be selected.
  • MLK50 is a nonprofit digital news site in Memphis with a four-person team made up of all women of color. Their stories focus on power, poverty and policy. The ProPublica Local Reporting Network supported a project to investigate a Memphis hospital that was suing its patients for unpaid medical debt. ProPublica assisted with data collection, analysis and fact-checking, allowing the reporter on the ground the time and space she needed to attend courtroom proceedings and interview those who were being sued. The stories that were produced ultimately led to the hospital changing its policies, increasing the wages of its lowest paid employees, dropping cases, forgiving debt, and increasing its charity care budget. When a local doctor’s office caught wind that MLK50 would be looking at their practices next, they also made changes. The stories led to tips about similar practices in other communities, which ProPublica passed on to local news outlets where appropriate.
  • The ProPublica Local Reporting Network supported a project at The Anchorage Daily News to investigate sexual violence in Alaska and to understand why so few cases were being prosecuted successfully. Because ProPublica provided salary support, the reporter was able to work on the project for a year, and the newspaper could afford to backfill that reporter’s day-to-day work with another journalist. The reporter explored the issue across Alaska, and found several themes that tied back to sexual violence, such as a lack of police in one-third of Alaska’s rural communities. In some towns, the police officers themselves had criminal records. Indigenous communities were particularly affected by the lack of protection. ProPublica’s team helped to supercharge what the Anchorage Daily News was able to do, and the stories fundamentally changed the conversation about sexual violence in Alaska. The federal government declared the lack of police and prosecutors in rural areas an emergency and provided funding to help.
  • ProPublica understands that local reporters know their communities and their culture, leading to deeper stories and richer narratives. Attracting more journalists of color to newsrooms and to start newsrooms is important and requires proactive outreach. Over time it will translate into more journalists of color reporting on issues.
  • ProPublica accepts funding for its overall work and for broad areas such as statehouse reporting, which Emerson funds, but has turned down funding for more limited geographies because they do not want to be in a position where they have to accept a proposal for a project because the funding exists to support it.
Experts in the field

No additional experts were citied.

Next Steps

Funders who are interested in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network should become familiar with the types of projects that the organization support by clicking on the links above.

Title of session: Libraries and Civic Engagement
Leaders: John Bracken, Digital Public Library of America; Anthony Marx, New York Public Library
Scribe: Ana Mantica, The Miami Foundation

Session Summary

“Part of the reason that DPLA was created was out of the sense that as we shift toward a digital age, wouldn’t it be a tragedy if we didn’t have access to information?” -John Bracken, DPLA

“The key to public good, the source of everything we believe in, is human intelligence, the capacity of everyoneto learn, create, contribute. Libraries are the institution committed to enhancing that. We are at a moment where we are at a crossroads of saying, do we still believe in that. The fact that libraries are the most-visited, most-trusted, funded, shows we still believe that.” -Anthony Marks, NYPL

Top Insights

Libraries (after the military) are the most trusted institution. This trust is based on:

  1. The geographic breadth and presence (16,000 public libraries in the U.S.).
  2. The skills librarians have been trained in are invaluable (and underutilized).
  3. The values that underscore work of the libraries (trust and truth, respect and inclusion).

The library’s basic commitment is to give you the information you need to make your life -and society -better. Among the ways libraries do this is:

  1. Physically, libraries create a space for people to gather together.
  2. At the library, everyone is welcome and no one is excluded or charged.
  3. Education-wise, libraries are providing services that go beyond the required and that fulfil life long needs, from pre-K to seniors.

The dominant way that people consume material is digital. It’s incumbent upon us to figure out an approach that works and that allows us to work together. How do we do this:

  1. Privacy and the responsible stewardship of information and data.
  2. Responsibly use the data that’s in front of us.
  3. Design programs and common approaches that responsibly use that data.

Q: How do you, as stewards of public funds, navigate the politicization of the work of libraries?
A: The idea that you can be apolitical at this moment is highly impossible. The key is to stay focused on the core values -trust and truth, inclusion and respect, learning and opportunity.

Q: How do we facilitate conversation across the divides?
A: If you can find a way to have a conversation in a language that can be heard, effectively, you’re setting yourself up for better conversation.

Q: How do we make our libraries relevant?
A: Libraries need to be physically respectful and inviting, with access to all information and programs that the community needs, and with intentionality.

Q: Do people undervalue our work because what we offer is free?
A: We have to talk to our communities about the value of libraries to manage the discussion of free libraries and tax support that it takes to keep them free.

Q: How can journalists partner with public libraries?
A: Start with local branches, and community groups and partners attached to those branches.

Next Steps

Questions to think about:

  • How do libraries capitalize on both information and trust?
  • The role of trustees
  • Ensuring curation of information, programs and buildings are done in conversation with community

Check out Checkology.org– The News Literacy Project

Title of session: On the Table: solutions that have emerged from three years of breaking bread
Leaders: Lisa Adkins, Blue Grass Community Foundation; Matthew Beatty, The Miami Foundation
Scribe: Carolyn Torgersen

Session Summary

On the Table was created by The Chicago Community Trust in 2014, and to date more than 30 communities have adopted the platform and have collectively engaged more than 250,000 people. Typically held on a single day, On the Table is exactly as the name suggests: It’s an opportunity to gather around a table with fellow community members to share a meal and have an open, engaged conversation about community issues. 

The session focused on the experiences of two cities, Lexington and Miami, and lessons learned after three years of spearheading On the Table in the community.

Top Insights
  • Reaching out to and involving a variety of groups – nonprofits, faith-based institutions, libraries – can help achieve a broader, balanced representation of participants.
  • Providing training for the On the Table hosts on things such as conversation prompting and managing difficult topics can be beneficial to keep things on track.
  • Discussions can be centered on a specific theme or a broad, overarching goal for your community. Lexington has focused on a different topic each year, with their 2020 event looking at neighborhoods, with the intention of using information from these conversations to power a series of place-specific neighborhood reports all across the city. Miami has embraced a broader “My Miami Story” theme.
  • There isn’t a “one size fits all” way to participate in On the Table. Conversations can take place at schools, businesses, private homes, restaurants, libraries, even prisons. As was reported last year, the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region created a “Longest Table” that stretched the length of two city blocks in Downtown Grand Forks, that brought together more than 700 participants for one massive community meal. Recognize that there is real power in just the conversation alone.
Experts in this field

The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation partnered to create the On the Table National Learning Network—a virtual learning community for foundations, civic institutions and nonprofit leaders who have implemented or shown interest in replicating the On the Table model. https://www.onthetablenetwork.com


These websites provide a great starting point to learn more about the execution of the On the Table program in Lexington and Miami.

Next Steps

Knight Foundation has funded the On the Table initiative for several years and will be taking time to assess the investment.  Learn more about their funding to date.

If you’re interested in adopting On the Table in your community, visit the On the Table Network website, OnTheTableNetwork.com, to sign up for updates.

If time and budget allow, consider visiting another community’s On the Table Event to learn more, find inspiration and see first-hand how the events come together.

Title of session: Storytelling on important issues: Lessons from building public spaces
Leaders: Bridget Marquis, Reimagining the Civic Commons, Dan Rice, Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition
Scribe: Ana Mantica, The Miami Foundation

Session Summary

Reimagining the Civic Commons is advancing a vision for renewed and connected urban public places—and reinventing how cities manage public assets. Central to their approach is the belief that our shared public places are a portfolio of assets that have the power to influence positive social outcomes. Based on this, the organization is working with teams on the ground to design, manage and operate their civic commons in five demonstration cities: Akron (case study presented), Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Philadelphia.

Top Insights

Reimagining the Civic Commons (Bridget Marquis)

We are more economically segregated than ever before. In the U.S., one-third of us don’t interact with our neighbors, at the same time as health research is showing the negative side effects of social isolation and a Pew Survey shows that trust among Americans is declining. Our gathering spaces come at the bottom of municipal budgets. Our collective civic commons has eroded. Enter Reimagining the Civic Commons.

Reimagining the Civic Commons is a three-year, national initiative with projects in five U.S. cities that revitalize and connect civic assets. A collaboration of national foundations and a network of local partners, the initiative is working toward four main goals: civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability and value creation.

We need to build a new narrative on why to invest in public spaces and why they are so important for community – beyond a theory of change. We needed data. We turned to the Learning Network, which developed a measurement system and community of storytelling on Medium.

Cities are starting to institutionalize narrative and the work the cities are doing is gaining attention. Outside users and media are recognizing public spaces as more than just public space.

Akron Civic Commons (Dan Rice)

Akron is Reimagining the Civic Commons because we need to develop and activate equitable and accessible outstanding civic spaces for all residents and visitors.

In Akron, we’ve begun the process of mending the divisions exacerbated by urban renewal. We’ve begun to rebuild trust.

When Akron Civic Commons started in 2016, there were specific points along the Towpath Trail where trail users would turn around before reaching downtown. As a result, Akron Civic Commons focused early efforts on changing that behaviour, by looking at specific connection points and destinations along the trail that could stop people from turning around and draw them further into the city’s core.

As trust is increasing, so is neighborhood pride and activity.


Q: What are you doing to embed this process in the system for funding?
A: Parks, trails and public spaces are not non-essential, they are essential services. This is a message that needs to be delivered to our elected officials. It’s not that there is no funding in the budget for parks and trails, it’s how you choose to use that funding. You need to commit to finding a long-term way to sustain this, pool resources together. It’s not that it’s not in the budget, it’s a priority. Pilot, collect data, test and iterate. Storytelling and communication are key, as is leveraging what Civic Commons is putting out there that public space is a public right. It’s hard to get the city to move without you taking a risk first.

Q: Where is the equity?
A: Identify what the community is looking for. We assume we know what people want. Rather than focus on the dollar, focus on how can we make this great place. Piloting, building, and co-creating is more effective in civic engagement and building public trust. So often we jump to product when often the process is what gets us there.

Q: How can philanthropy fund long-term operations and maintenance?
A: Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, as an example, is providing funding with allocation for endowment.

Next Steps

Follow Akron Civic Commons story and journey

Title of session: Bringing Local Reporting and Solutions to Your Community
Leaders: Liza Gross, Solutions Journalism Network; Charlie Sennott, Report for America
Introduction: Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation
Scribe: Emma Gilchrist, The Narwhal

Session Summary

There is a crisis in local news and Report for America and the Solutions Journalism Network are pioneering creative, collaborative solutions to rejuvenate local reporting. Report for America has supported 250 emerging reporters in local newsrooms serving under-covered areas, with a goal to support 1,000 reporters. The Solutions Journalism Network aims to catalyse at least 15 collaborative projects that will report on pressing challenges in communities with a solutions journalism perspective.

Top Insights
  • Supporting the next generation of journalists through early-career opportunities presents an opportunity to hire and mentor journalists from traditionally under-represented communities. Some 40 percent of Report for America’s hires are people of color and two-thirds are women. “The pipeline for young talent is broken,” Sennott said. “We’re trying to restore the pipeline.”
  • Solutions journalism is not happy journalism, it’s useful journalism — journalism that reports with equal rigor on solutions to problems as well as the problems themselves. Solutions journalism can help journalists re-gain trust with audiences that have been pushed away by relentlessly negative narratives.
  • Collaborative reporting projects bring together news organizations of all types to work on a challenge in their community. In Philadelphia, The Reentry Project and its 13 newsroom partners reported and broadcast approximately 200 stories, moving stories on prisoner re-entry from the margins to the front pages. A new organization, called Resolve Philadelphia, now leads ongoing collaborative, solutions-based journalism in the community.
  • Newsrooms often lack the mentoring/editing capacity required to nurture early-career journalists. A journalism professor in the audience commented on the decline of editing in the industry, to the extent that students come back from internships saying they never received any editing. “Is there a more organized way to institutionalize an editing response?” he asked.  Sennott of Report for America noted there’s a network of talented editors who are under-employed or moving on from the industry that need to be tapped.
Next Steps
  • Invite a Report for America reporter to speak at an event in your community.
  • Register with the Solutions Journalism Network, to get tapped into their great newsletter and training opportunities. partner individually with newsrooms that are interested.
  • Follow #brokeinphilly on Twitter, to see the Resolve Philadelphia’s work.

Title of session: Meeting news and information needs in rural communities
Leaders: Korenna Wilson, LOR Foundation; Terrence Williams, Keene Sentinel;
Dana Coester, Moderator, founder of 100 Days in Appalachia, West Virginia University
Scribe: Emma Gilchrist, The Narwhal

Session Summary

The news landscape is rapidly shifting in rural communities and locals are exploring a variety of innovative ways to meet information needs. The stories being told about rural communities are not always accurate, which can lead to distrust of outside media. The health of local communities is strongly tied to the presence of quality, local news.

Top Insights
  • News in rural communities comes in many different shapes and sizes. Korenna Wilson of LOR Foundation spoke to the instance of Lander, Wyoming, where the go-to place for news has become a Facebook page, called County 10, which attracts 18,000 readers a day. “We don’t tell you what the news is, our readers tell us,” County 10 says. “The goal is to let you decide what’s important.”
  • The Keene Sentinel, on the other hand, has been around since 1799, and has a newsroom of 15 people for a paper that circulates 6,000 copies. The Sentinel hosts events that celebrate achievement within the community, as well as the Radically Rural summit, which examines issues of importance to rural communities.
  • The Keene Sentinel has adapted to the digital age with the help of a program called Table Stakes, run by Poynter and API, which helps news organizations create strategies to boost digital subscriptions. By 2023/2024, Terrence Williams anticipates digital subscribers will surpass print subscribers at the Sentinel.
  • Williams is closely watching what happens with the Salt Lake Tribune and how the non-profit experience can be applied in New Hampshire, a bastion of non-profits. Recently, the paper sent out a letter of appeal about increasing subscription prices and received a lot of positive feedback from readers who recognize the value of local news and are happy to pay more for it.
Experts in this field

The NewStart Alliance, which has a newsletter, which covers community journalism trends and offers advice for media owners and start-ups

The Table Stakes local news innovation program at Poynter


Articles on the link between community health and local news:

Next Steps

The LOR Foundation is exploring developing a rural news bureau with the New York Times and is looking for partner funders to help get journalists on the ground in rural areas. Reach out if you’re interested.

Check out the Radically Rural summit and 100 Days in Appalachia.

Title of session: Supporting coverage of key community issues: Education, gun violence and housing
Leaders: Kayce Ataiyero, Joyce Foundation; Elizabeth Green, Chalkbeat. Moderator: Jon Funabiki, Renaissance Journalism
Scribe: Heidi Williamson, Berks County Community Foundation

Session Summary

There are a variety of ways foundations can support issue-specific news coverage, including sharing research results with journalists, funding advocacy that gets critical reports in front of decision-makers and inviting reporters to educational sessions about key topics. Foundations can also provide grants that directly support reporting at news organizations (or collaborations of news organizations), or award individual fellowships for journalists to take on deeper projects.

Top Insights

The Joyce Foundation supports public policy, research, and education across five program areas, including gun violence prevention. The foundation partners with outlets to build awareness around the issue. For example, The Trace illuminates the numbers behind the crisis and equips policymakers and advocates with information they need. Reports in Crain’s Chicago Business reach the business community to encourage further investment in gun violence prevention initiatives. Projects like Every Other Hour on WBEZ reach people in neighborhoods that are largely insulated from the violence to help them see the victims as their neighbors and build public will to address the issue.

Chalkbeat covers one issue – education – in multiple regions. Its editors work with journalists in communities and they become experts on the topic. Chalkbeat is funded by many sources, including grants from foundations, sponsorships, and the sale of job ads. By combining many sources of revenue, Chalkbeat is not dependent on any one funding source. Chalkbeat posts its stories on its own website and also makes them available for free to news outlets in the communities in which they work.

Renaissance Journalism does not seek to create additional coverage of key topics, but rather aims for better coverage by helping reporters understand topics through a social equity lens and seek out the root causes, policies and systems beneath the stories. Renaissance Journalism recommends that funders analyze an issue and see what stories have already been done and determine what still needs to be told, and to look for places where the dots haven’t been connected, such as how housing is related to education, health, and the history of segregation and redlining.

Renaissance also recommends connecting journalists with experts and sources, not to pitch stories, but to provide increased access to a variety of policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and other potential sources who have insight into what is happening and the solutions that are being tested.

Just like any other grant, collaboration or partnership, funders need to do their research and be thoughtful about the issues and news organizations they support and how they do it. What works with one news outlet may not work with another, and not all news outlets are ready or interested in taking the lead on philanthropically-funded projects. When news outlets apply for a grant, consider their motivation: are they invested in the topic or just chasing a grant?

Finally, funders should understand that even though they provide a grant for coverage of a certain topic, they will not and should not have a say in the reporting that is produced. Funders can include an editorial independence clause in the grant agreements they create, while news outlets should share their influence clause with foundations before any grant is accepted.

Experts in this field

No additional experts were cited.


Resources for gun violence reporting in Chicago:

Resource for education reporting in multiple communities:

Next Steps

Funders that are considering providing grants for reporting around specific topic areas should consider the broad range of options available to them – from providing grants and fellowships for the reporting itself to supporting research and access to information and sources.

Title of session: Supporting coverage of key community issues
Leaders: Susan Chira, Marshall Project; Katie Lepri, WLRN; Liz Willen, Hechinger Report; Jeff Cohen (Moderator), Arnold Ventures
Scribe: Grace Diffey, Hamilton Community Foundation

Session Summary

The relationship between funder and newsroom is still a new and delicate one. This session explored the “rules of the road” based on the experiences of three non-profit journalism ventures, each of which focuses on a single issue.  

The Marshall Project is a non-profit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system and, in particular, its intersection with diversity. It talks to people who are incarcerated, partners with other news outlets and works to fill gaps in rigorous criminal justice reporting. It is a digital outlet that produces print editions to be read by the incarcerated.  

The Hechinger Report is an online site covering inequality and innovation in education with in-depth journalism that uses research, data and stories from classrooms and campuses. It partners with other news outlets to show the public how education can be improved and why it matters.

WLRN is the public broadcaster in South Florida. It publishes a weekly text newsletter dedicated to environmental issues, focusing on one issue per edition.

Top Insights
  • Single-issue news needs to partner with other news outlets to fill gaps in in-depth reporting and do what others can’t/don’t do. It should not replicate or duplicate.
  • Enlightened funders recognize that they may be the subject of the reporting that they fund – good or bad. At the same time, journalists need to recognize that funders often have deep expertise and some of the best thinking in the area they are covering – hence the funder’s interest. Thus, journalists should not be afraid to use funder as a source, but should always do so with a disclaimer.
  • Many of these “no strings attached” details need to be clearly spelled out in the grant agreement. Editorial and funding conversations should not be mixed. It is not dissimilar to the relationship between journalists and advertisers. Statements of principles and a board funding acceptance committee/policy can be helpful.
  • Metrics are justifiably important to funders, but impact grant metrics developed for traditional grants don’t work in a journalism initiative. Funders collaborating on a common set of metrics that matter would be very helpful.  Journalists can also figure out what impact matters to them – what they are trying to accomplish — and bake that tracking into the reporting process.
  • General grants for operating are a critical need area.
Experts in this field

Lindsay Barber-Greene from The Impact Architects has helped a number of news organizations and funders to develop relevant metrics for their work.


American Press Institute guiding principles for non-profit newsrooms and funders. The guidelines for nonprofit news organizations were also designed to be easily adopted for commercial news organization that might partner with nonprofit media or receive charitable grants to produce news.

Next Step

For news organizations, consider:

  • What is it that your organization does that others don’t do. How can that be of value to funders?
  • What metrics are important to you? Why? Why might they be important to funders? How can you make this an underpinning of the reporting process?
For Funders and Grantees

Review the API guidelines to understand what expectations are ethical and reasonable from both sides, and enter your agreements with a clear understanding and eyes wide open.

Title of session: The role of public media newsrooms in local journalism networks
Leaders: Nancy Barnes, NPR; Michael Isip, KQED; Joy Lin, Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Moderator: Feather Houstoun, Wyncote Foundation
Scribe: LuAnn Lovlin, The Winnipeg Foundation

Session Summary

Collaborations are key to the future success of journalism and public media has a role to play. Establishing journalism ‘hubs’ around the country will help build collaborative networks. Sharing of resources will result in a broader reach for all partners. Challenges still exist as many newsrooms are figuring out new models and just beginning to undertake collaboration in their own marketplaces. Public media often has the resources and reach to help ensure capacity is there for local journalism outlets. Collaborations will help create new models of working together, stitching various stations and projects together and resulting in new and powerful forces for journalism. To continue to innovate, collaborations must have diverse perspectives and be intentional in bringing new voices to the stories.

Top Insights
  • The non-profit model for journalism entities always pushes for the public good. It is not motivated by returns to shareholders.
  • New collaborations involving public media newsrooms and local news initiatives can electrify local and national possibilities, building capacity within systems to elevate reporting and community engagement.
  • Solutions will be network-driven at the local level. There may not be scope and scale but there is great opportunity.
  • Local journalism outlets will have to think differently about who their peers and partners are. There is strength in working together.
  • Inclusivity, engagement and diversity have to be priorities if you want to attract innovative approaches, including surfacing new voices.. The work can be done, you just have to be intentional.
Experts in this field and resources

Along with the panelists noted at the top, here are additional resources;

NPR Report: Thought Leaders Contact at NPR to learn more is: Lorraine Ross, executive director of institutional giving; [email protected]

Lenfest Institute: Non-profit organization whose sole mission is to build sustainable business models for local journalism.

Institute for Nonprofit News: INN Index 2019: The State of Nonprofit News –  inn.org/INNINDEX

Next Steps

If public media and local journalism work together, they can serve the public good, better.

Forming hubs is the future of journalism. Local news and public media should look for opportunities to collaborate in new and innovative ways, using media, technology and journalism to build communities and to serve news deserts. Talk to your community about the stories it wants told.