The decades-long decimation of local news—and the dangers that the trend poses for public oversight, an informed citizenry, and democracy itself—remains very much underway.

Since 2005, some 2,200 local newspapers have closed, according to a press release by the MacArthur Foundation.

In an effort to turn this trend around, the MacArthur Foundation unveiled in September 2023 the Press Forward initiative, a coalition of 22 founding donors set on “strengthening communities and democracy by supporting local news.” The MacArthur Foundation itself pledged $150 million to the new fund. 

Press Forward represents the most significant philanthropic investment into local journalism to date, with the MacArthur Foundation leading and coordinating the effort to contribute a combined $500 million to local news operations across the country over the next five years. 

The new initiative is being championed by MacArthur Foundation President John Palfrey, who has also served as chair of the Knight Foundation, which funds various journalistic activities around the United States. 

“We have a moment to support the reimagination, revitalization and rapid development of local news,” Palfrey said in the press release announcing the new fund. “The philanthropic sector recognizes the need to strengthen American democracy and is beginning to see that progress on every other issue, from education and healthcare to criminal justice reform and climate change, is dependent on the public’s understanding of the facts.”

The idea is to both directly pool and contribute $500 million toward local journalism and, in doing so, spark wider and sustained investment in local journalism in the years to come, says Kathy Im, director of journalism and media for the MacArthur Foundation. 

Im tells NPQ that “one of the main goals of this is to bring attention to the need for philanthropic support of journalism.”

“It’s a call to action for philanthropy to step up in this moment….We have a crisis in our country,” Im adds. “And while there are lots of entry points and interventions we can pursue, one of them is revitalizing and rebuilding the local news ecosystem in communities across the country.”

The message to donors, Im says, is: “If you care about the climate, and you care about healthcare, and you care about education, you probably want to care about the provision of accurate news and information about those topics. And the way to do that is through journalism.”

But beyond the monetary investment are the types of funding available. While the grantmaking guidelines are still in the works, slated for release in early 2024, Press Forward did share the four areas of focus for funding:

Read the full article about supporting local newsrooms by Isaiah Thompson at Nonprofit Quarterly.