It’s never been a more challenging time for local news – and a more impactful time for funders to make the leap to support them
During the pandemic, racial reckoning, and election last year, it became obvious just how important local news is to communities around the country. Despite their own financial troubles, local news outlets are providing vital, life-saving information, recently becoming a lifeline with vaccine distribution information. And they have proven to be trusted sources of info as social media platforms have been flooded with misinformation and false rumors.
So while it might be the worst of times for the business of local news, it’s also the best time for local foundations and high net-worth individuals to step up to support them. These publishers have shown their mettle and the time is right for funders to help make them sustainable and give them a boost during a time when these donations can make the greatest difference. Doing so will pay back dividends in the community by increasing political accountability, empowering voters with civic information and shedding light on issues funders care about.
Here are some stories to help funders get up to speed on supporting local news:
It’s heartening to see the growth of support for local news — nonprofits and for profits — from foundations and donors around the country. Local foundations who had largely been on the sidelines have been instrumental in supporting new journalism collaborations in Wichita, New Hampshire, Northeast Ohio, Western New York and Southeastern Michigan. And high-net worth individuals have given generously to publishers who have fundraised for Report for America (RFA) corps members to cover their communities.
More nonprofit news publishers are diversifying their revenues, and one of the driving forces for this change is NewsMatch, a matching program that helps nonprofit news outlets fundraise from their communities with matching grants from a number of national and local foundations. In 2019, NewsMatch turned an initial pool of $3.37 million in foundation funding into a $43.5 million payout for newsrooms. In 2020, the pool increased to more than $5 million, and there were 267 newsrooms participating – up 35% from the previous year.
Local news is poised to become a cause célèbre alongside all the other bumper sticker fodder of years past. As local newspapers struggle amid massive cuts, newer nonprofit and for-profit outlets are establishing themselves as the new watchdogs on the block. This is certainly a time for hope and renewal — but the newer players are going to need a big slice of philanthropy and investment to mature into community stalwarts.
As the problem of deteriorating coverage from local news outlets hits community after community in America, more place-based foundations will have to step in to shepherd more support for a variety of public-interest media. The days of just cutting a check to a local public media station are long over. Much more needs to be done to make sure that public service reporting is alive and well in cities, suburbs and rural areas of the country. That means supporting newer nonprofit newsrooms, for-profit digital natives, support networks, education and more.
Mark Glaser is a consultant and advisor with a focus on supporting local and independent news in America. He was the founder and executive director of MediaShift.org, and is an associate at Dot Connector Studio, and innovation consultant at the New Mexico Local News Fund.
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