Civic engagement increases with news and information projects, funders find

Communities / Article

The following blog post is written by Michele McLellan, a Circuit Rider for the Knight Community Information Challenge, which is accepting applications from community and place-based foundations through July 1. Photo credit: ModeShift on Flickr.

Six years ago, the Knight Community Information Challenge set out to encourage community foundations to fill gaps in local information created by shrinking newsrooms.

Along the way, though, many challenge winners found that their news and information projects increased civic engagement – in fact, that’s what more than two-thirds reported recently in a survey by FSG.

FSG surveyed more than 50 community foundations that have sponsored local news and information projects in the first five years of the challenge, which is accepting applications from locally-focused funders through June 1.

  • 66 percent reported they had increased community engagement in issues they care about.
  • 74 percent report contributing towards a more informed community, to greater media attention to local issues, and to greater collaboration among community issues.

FSG cited these examples:

  • ACT for Alexandria in Virginia created an online town hall called “Ask the city council candidates.” This prompted online discussion and the local Democratic party used questions from the town hall in its final primary debate. The project reports that residents have also been more engaged in local problem solving. For example, during a competition to promote engagement, residents generated 22 different ideas for how to improve the play opportunities for children in Alexandria.
  • The California Endowment says coverage in Pacific News Service has contributed to a spike in community organizing around key community issues such as obesity and youth-on-youth violence. Youth have become engaged in community activism and interested in journalism and media.
  • The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan’s project, Mode Shift, has helped increase grassroots organizing efforts. This includes creation of a group to establish bike pump and flat repair stations across town, and greater citizen participation in community rallies and meetings aimed at developing bike programs.

Most foundations like the results they are seeing and plan to continue to invest. In all, 80 percent of the foundations surveyed said they intended to fund their Community Information Challenge projects over the next three years, including 55 percent that said they would increase funding.

While they see foundation or donor funding as a mainstay, many are looking at sustaining their projects through earned revenue such as advertising, syndication of content, corporate sponsorships or events with a fee.

Related: “New focus, opportunity for funding community news and information” on Knight Blog by Susan Patterson and Bahia Ramos, and “Opportunity for funding Open Gov, information tools in Knight Community Information Challenge” on Knight Blog by Chris Sopher