Knight Foundation focuses on building the future of local news in $300 million, five-year commitment

February 19, 2019

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Knight calls on funders and individuals to join effort to rebuild trust in democracy from local level up

For how to get involved in the initiative and support the rebuilding of local news, visit kf.org/localnews.

MIAMI—Feb. 19, 2019—The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced that it would double its investment in strengthening journalism to $300 million over five years, with a focus on building the future of local news and information, which are essential for democracy to function.

Knight called on individual and institutional funders to join in this opportunity to rebuild trust and foster sustainability in journalism, an essential democratic institution, starting on the local level. 

Knight’s initial investments are in scalable organizations committed to serving communities at the local level — all of which are seeking additional support. These organizations are building new business models, strengthening investigative reporting, protecting press freedom, promoting news literacy, and connecting with audiences through civic engagement and technology. 

Newsrooms across the nation have been decimated by the collapse of traditional business models brought on by the impact of digital technology and social media, which have drawn readers and advertisers to other information sources on the internet. As a result, many communities have turned into news deserts, with little or no local reporting.

“Without revenue, you can’t pay reporters. Without reporters, you can’t develop consistently reliable news reports about what’s happening in your town. Without that reliable news report, you can’t figure out how to run local government. It isn’t rocket science,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “We’re not funding one-offs. We’re helping to rebuild a local news ecosystem, reliable and sustainable, and we’re doing it in a way that anyone who cares can participate.”

“Reliable news and information are essential for people to make democracy work,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “By investing in projects and people with bold ideas, Knight and others who care about journalism and democracy have the opportunity to reverse years of declining trust and revenues and help build a sustainable future for local news and information in the 21st century.” 

The initiative is an effort to find a different, collaborative, digital, local way to reliably inform Americans by supporting national organizations working in partnership on the local level. It further seeks to galvanize support from other funders and individuals across sectors for these organizations; the descriptions below contain links to learn more and support at any level.

Knight’s investments aim to revive vigorous, local, investigative reporting and accountability journalism, largely by supporting national organizations working in partnership at the local level, including:

  • American Journalism Project ($20 million): To support the American Journalism Project, a new venture philanthropy initiative that will provide transformative grants and support to local, nonprofit civic news organizations to ensure their long-term sustainability.
  • ProPublica ($5 million): To advance partnerships with local news organizations to strengthen local investigative reporting, data-driven reporting and audience engagement. The support will also help expand ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, allowing it to hire local reporters.
  • Report for America ($5 million): To expand the reach of Report for America, a national service program, helping it place journalists in underserved local newsrooms across the country and train the next generation of journalists working in local news organizations. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.
  • Frontline PBS ($3 million): To increase the scope and impact of Frontline’s high-quality documentaries and multimedia approach to reporting on local issues and establish up to five geographic hubs around the country involving partnerships with local newsrooms.
  • NewsMatch ($1.5 million): To support a national matching-gift campaign to grow fundraising capacity in nonprofit newsrooms and promote giving to journalism among U.S. donors. Launched by Knight Foundation in 2016, NewsMatch has grown with support from Democracy Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and other foundations and corporations, and has helped nonprofit news organizations raise more than $14 million.

The initiative also recognizes that today’s journalists, and local news organizations in particular, are less able to pursue legal cases around free speech and freedom of the press due to a lack of resources and support. Knight is making a major investment to tackle this challenge:

  • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press ($10 million): To help local newsrooms defend the First Amendment and hold decision-makers accountable. The Reporters Committee will triple the number of lawyers working on local issues and expand its network of local attorneys providing pro bono legal support.

In addition, the initiative includes $10 million in support for the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, a partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism announced in September 2018, which established a fund for the digital transformation of local news organizations. The latest Knight investment will support further expanding the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative (formerly “Table Stakes”) within dozens of new communities and establishing a shared resource hub for local news organizations.

Building on Knight’s previous work to address the rapid spread of misinformation and promote accurate news, other investments will support news literacy initiatives, community engagement, and tools that help people become better consumers of news. These include:

  • The News Literacy Project ($5 million): To expand the impact of a nonpartisan educational nonprofit that empowers educators to teach news literacy to middle and high school students. The organization will also bring its signature NewsLitCamps to several communities where Knight invests; the professional development program provides teachers and librarians with an introduction to news literacy, teaching resources and the opportunity to connect directly with journalists working in their communities.
  • Solutions Journalism Network ($5 million): To expand a model that advances community engagement and civic dialogue to produce rigorous reporting that highlights solutions, rather than problems. The initiative will help bring the Solutions Journalism Network to more communities, including those where Knight invests, and will encourage collaboration with newsrooms participating in the American Journalism Project.
  • Cortico ($2 million): To help journalists build trust by better understanding the communities they serve and the issues people care about. Cortico's listening system —the Local Voices Network— uses machine learning to analyze online and offline community conversations. Cortico is a nonprofit created by leaders at the Lab for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab.

Knight is investing an additional $35 million in research to support the creation and expansion of research centers around the United States. This research will study the changing nature of an informed society in America and will help build an emerging field of study to address pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the digital age.

Today’s announcement by Knight, the nation’s leading funder of journalism, comes two weeks after the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy —a joint initiative between Aspen Institute and Knight— released a report based on more than a year of work by experts across sectors. It offers recommendations for the press, technology platforms, as well as public and philanthropic actors to rebuild the trust in the media and other democratic institutions calling for: online news services to protect their users; radical transparency from media organizations; and a commitment to civics education. Several recommendations focus on strengthening local news including developing viable nonprofit, hybrid and for-profit local news models, and advancing collaboration among journalism entities at all levels. 

As the leading funder of journalism and media innovation in the country, these investments further Knight’s commitment to fostering more informed and engaged communities, which are essential to a healthy democracy.

To learn more on how get involved in the initiative and support the rebuilding of local news visit: kf.org/localnews.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

CONTACT:

Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected]

Image (top): The Texas Tribune's Juan Luis García Hernández (left) and Neena Satija interview Guatemalan asylum seeker Marcos Samayoa on the Brownsville/Gateway International Bridge in June 2018. Photo by Reynaldo Leal for The Texas Tribune.