Investments in Local News Sustainability: Early Learnings and Insights


In February 2019, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation 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. In early 2020, Knight Foundation and Impact Architects launched this assessment of Knight’s investments in local news sustainability with the goal to better understand the impacts of these investments and promising practices that contribute to sustainability. This report is an interim learning memo assessing these investments after each of these programs has been operating for at least one full year. 

The main objective of this assessment is to understand the effects of grantees’ interventions in the context of Knight’s goals for sustainability of local news, particularly with respect to audience and revenue growth. We know that the long-term sustainability of local news cannot be divorced from the need for local news organizations to be diverse, equitable and inclusive, with sophisticated organizational practices and representation from the communities they aim to serve. So, we include these aspects of organizational growth and development in the qualitative elements of this assessment, as well.  

Given the upheaval of 2020 and 2021, the assessment has continually adjusted in response to our ever-changing reality. The assessment includes eight unique interventions being carried out by ten grantee organizations, all of which are B2B organizations supporting newsrooms through grantmaking, programming, training and networking. 

To test the Knight Foundation’s hypotheses with respect to local news sustainability, we are gathering comparable quantitative data from newsrooms pre- and post-grantee intervention with respect to audience, revenue, operations, staff and culture. These quantitative metrics, together with interviews to generate qualitative data, are used to answer key questions and provide insights regarding:

  • The return on investment (ROI) of investments with revenue-generating outcomes;
  • The impact of grantee interventions on participating newsrooms’ financial health and sustainability;
  • The relative strengths of different grantee interventions with respect to audience growth, revenue generation and organizational culture shift;
  • The effect of grantee interventions on newsrooms in the context of sector-level trends.