In restating Knight’s strategy, we found our core beliefs more relevant than ever

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John S. and James L. Knight believed that a well-informed citizenry was essential to the proper functioning of a democratic republic, and that an engaged community could best determine its own true interests. When the brothers formed Knight Foundation, they didn’t narrowly prescribe how the foundation should operate. They merely stated they cared about excellence in journalism and the good of the communities where they had been so successful.

The Knights believed and acted in accord with the core beliefs of the foundation:

  • We believe an informed citizenry is essential for a representative democracy to function. 
  • We believe in engaged, equitable, and inclusive communities.  

The brothers also believed their foundation should be flexible to remain impactful as times  change. That’s why we at Knight Foundation periodically reflect on our mission and reconsider our strategy. 

We last did so in 2016 and published our Statement of Strategy. We’ve now taken a fresh look and are pleased to publish this 2020 update. 

Our social investment principles, which we derive from the Knight brothers, endure. But we’ve added a new investment principle about partners, because we believe none of our goals can be accomplished by a single organization. And we stress the intelligent application of evolving technology because that, too, was a hallmark of the Knight enterprises.

Our programmatic focuses are broadly the same:

  • We believe in journalism’s fundamental role in our democratic republic. The challenges of protecting the First Amendment and promoting journalistic excellence have intensified. Surveys show abysmally low trust in journalism, and accurate news and information compete with half-truths and fabrications flowing through technology platforms and entertainment served up as news in the form of national shouting matches on cable television. We will bring people together at the local level to debate and propose solutions to this challenge to our democracy.  Our focus is on local because that’s where news consumers can more easily verify — and, therefore, trust.
  • We believe in civic engagement. We support initiatives and ideas that nurture talented people and enhance opportunity in the 26 communities where the Knight brothers published newspapers. Those communities, which remain areas of focus, represent many facets of America. We embrace that diversity. 
  • We believe in the capacity of art and culture to connect people to place and to each other. We open doors for individual artists and encourage institutions to engage the public in ways that are authentic to each of our cities. And we understand that technology will affect the arts every bit as much as other parts of our lives.

But we’ve made targeted refinements to our programmatic strategy:

  • We’ve removed a Technology Innovation department, independent of our other programs, because we’ve recognized the need to integrate technological innovation into everything we do.
  • In our Journalism program, we have prioritized our emphasis on a sustainable future for local news and information.
  • In Communities and National Initiatives, we are more specific about the areas where we fund to deepen engagement. These reflect areas, such as Public Spaces and Smart Cities, where Knight has already been investing and leading.
  • In Arts, we fund projects that help build a sense of community. Because bad art fails to move anyone, we fund high-quality art and cultural activity authentic to each community.
  • In Learning and Impact, we added support for independent research examining technology’s impact on democracy. 

We live in changing times. Helping create stability in news organizations and supporting civic and cultural institutions may seem a fool’s errand to some. But we believe in the permanency of the Knight brothers’ principles and are determined to make a better society. 

If you’re willing to help be part of the solution, I’m eager to hear from you at [email protected]  

Alberto Ibargüen is president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation