Research on the nonprofit news sector suggests that smaller outlets get less money from foundations than larger ones. “Foundations are funneling more donations to larger, more established state and regional outlets,” according to the Institute for Nonprofit News’ 2023 Index survey. The same survey found local outlets see few foundation dollars compared to the funding received by national or global news organizations. (As Colbert put it, “we get proportionately less major philanthropy than the Texas Tribunes and ProPublicas of the world.”) But foundation revenue is still a key part of these small outlets’ lifeblood — INN also found that “local outlets derive 45% of their total revenue from foundation grants,” including locally based philanthropy.

Scrappy labors of civic love like the Independent are, increasingly, popping up in communities across the country. Colbert is part of a wave of journalists and citizens trying to rebuild local news as a community-supported public resource by launching nonprofit news outlets, especially as many for-profit legacy news outlets have been squeezed and decimated by their owners. For a sense of scale: INN found that the number of local nonprofits “more than doubled in six years,” with 81 outlets launching “since rapid growth began in 2017” (that’s more than one per month). Medill’s 2023 State of Local News report said that 33% of digital local news sites are nonprofit, as well as 80% of state and regional sites; 40% of sites that are five years old or older are nonprofits.1

Some of these nonprofits, like The Texas Tribune (launched in 2009) and The Baltimore Banner (launched in 2022), are backed by millions of dollars and big names; others are one-woman or one-man shows. But for large and small nonprofits alike, INN has been a key supporter of growth and momentum, especially through NewsMatch, its marathon two-month annual national matching campaign to support nonprofit news.

Despite this explosive growth, it’s a tough road for even the most successful nonprofits (as the Texas Tribune’s first-ever layoffs last summer demonstrate). Reporters and publishers I talked to from eight different newsrooms founded between 2009 and 2022 — based in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio, in rural, urban, and small-town communities alike — described similar challenges securing funding and attention from national funders, which compound the physical and psychological burden of being perpetually overworked and underpaid. Most of these eight nonprofits have annual budgets under $200,000 (and one true shoestring publication reported revenue and expenses under $10,000 for 2022); all have budgets under $500,000.

These journalists say that more foundation money should flow directly to newsrooms — especially the smallest, community-based, homegrown newsrooms — in the form of direct, unrestricted operating funding. That’s why they’ve joined the new Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets (ANNO), a “no dues, no staff, no board, and no office” association launched last August with 17 founding member outlets. More newsrooms, including the Athens County Independent, have signed on since; as of this month, ANNO’s member ranks have climbed to 32 publications, founded anywhere from the aughts to last year.2

ANNO newsrooms have found that they have more of a voice by banding together: Since last summer, before officially launching, publishers from ANNO newsrooms have held conversations with multiple large journalism funders to give their perspective on what they need in the trenches of keeping their outlets alive — and how philanthropy can better, and more equitably, support them.

Read the full article about the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets by Sophie Culpepper at Nieman Lab.