Local equals trust: A call to help rebuild local news

On March 31, Knight announced a $6 million investment in three organizations helping create a strong support system for local newsrooms across the country. Learn more about the announcement here.

Since Knight Foundation announced a $300 million initiative in February to help rebuild local news, we’ve received an exuberant response from funders, civic leaders and journalists. They, too, are seeking to bolster local reporting in their communities because they understand the important role that journalism plays in our democracy in informing communities and holding the powerful accountable. 

Many are seeing their local newspapers close their doors or shrink, giving rise to less cohesion and civic participation. At the same time, trust in news has hit all-time lows and polarization has peaked, in part because the decline of local news has led to a loss of trustworthy information created by people we know.

People are asking how they can support informed communities in their hometowns and ensure that local newsrooms and the journalism they produce reflect the communities they serve. Knight knows that the crisis in news cannot be solved without more awareness and more support to the individuals and organizations doing on-the-ground work. A few of us alone cannot surmount this crisis.

Our initiative to rebuild local news recognizes that we have an opportunity to turn the tide —together. We are inviting funders of all kinds to invest with us in new, scalable initiatives with the potential to create a fresh future for local news and strengthen journalism.

We want more funders to join in these efforts — we welcome them reaching out or connecting directly to some of the great organizations we’re supporting to advance this important goal. Our message is that local equals trust. Local reporters are neighbors, friends and members of the community: Whether digital, print, or broadcast, their main goal is to deliver quality information so people can shape their communities, keep abreast of local government actions, and appreciate our shared stories. 

Today, Knight Foundation’s journalism program is announcing $6 million in new support for three organizations that have demonstrated proven track records of helping free and independent news providers develop sustainable business models. They are the Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Publishers and News Revenue Hub.

THE INSTITUTE FOR NONPROFIT NEWS (INN), which was awarded $3.5 million, exclusively serves nonprofit news outlets. Many of its member organizations, such as VT Digger, Rocky Mountain Public Media, or Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, deliver investigative and public service reporting for local communities. Others are national outlets building out local news reporting networks like ProPublica. INN has also been a key training partner for the three years of NewsMatch, a matching gifts campaign supported by a host of funders that allows nonprofit newsrooms to double their fundraising impact, strengthen their development and business skills, and expand their membership programs. The institute will also dedicate a portion of the funding to publishers from underserved communities and those who serve underrepresented audiences. The future of nonprofit newsrooms is about earning financial and philanthropic support from their communities, and INN helps them do just that.

LOCAL INDEPENDENT ONLINE NEWS PUBLISHERS (LION Publishers) has been awarded $1 million to strengthen the sustainability of news outlets delivering strong local independent news coverage. Local publishers face their own unique set of challenges in the digital age. Close to 70 percent of LION’s members are for profit publishers, but 100 percent of its members are local news leaders who serve metro areas, neighborhoods, towns, or states through digital platforms. They are also amplifying their efforts to work with legacy ethnic media organizations that embrace digital distribution. Currently, LION Publishers has close to 250 members in 45 states.

NEWS REVENUE HUB has been awarded $1.5 million to expand their work with digital news providers, helping them to embrace technology, improve their relationship with audiences, and drive overall financial sustainability. Mary Walter-Brown founded News Revenue Hub in 2016 in response to a gap that she saw — the need for a service provider that would focus on helping news organizations strengthen their muscles around audience development and membership programs. Like INN, News Revenue Hub has provided training for more than 150 NewsMatch participants since 2016.

These three organizations have been cataloguing the challenges and offering solutions to local news providers in the digital age, from ways to integrate technology innovation and shared services to tackling legal issues and developing models toward achieving long term sustainability. 

Making local journalism more diverse and inclusive is part of the core mission of these organizations, as it is of the American Journalism Project, Report for America and the Solutions Journalism Project, which Knight announced funding for in February. If we help build a future for local news that has a new economic model but the same complexion as the old one, we will have failed. Just as these organizations are seeking to support local news ventures that not only have diverse staff but diverse ownership, Knight is planning to announce investments in a number of organizations led by people of color in the next stage of our initiative.

By continuing to support these champions of local news, we hope to close the gap between people and public service journalism and build stronger connections between reporters and the community. That is our greater mission at Knight. Not simply to support journalists, technologists and entrepreneurs, but to support informed communities that are vital to building a healthy democracy. Local is the solution, the answer, the place where trust begins and where reporting is built around facts, one-to-one relationships, and a community’s shared understanding of itself.

Image (top) courtesy of CALmatters, a member organization of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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