The number of U.S. news organizations, specifically local news outlets, has been rapidly dwindling. The wave of layoffs following the Great Recession, compounded by the loss of print ad revenue, has made it harder for outlets to bounce back. The COVID-19 pandemic brought more challenges for the industry, as demand for local news grew but revenue and outlets shrank. In 2023, an average of 2.5 newspapers closed each week, up from two a week in 2022. Funders including the John S. and James L. Knight, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundations have recognized the importance of a vibrant local news ecosystem. As part of their democracy portfolios, they’re funding not only newsroom operations and training but also research and collaborations to bring diverse voices to the fore.

Centering representation in news reporting 
In two separate studies conducted by the Knight Foundation and Pew Research Center, before the calls for racial justice in 2020, Americans expressed a strong desire for news that more accurately represents them. Respondents mentioned a need for more diversity in the news industry on all fronts: racial, ethnic, political, class, etc. Funders like Borealis Philanthropy, the Institute for Nonprofit News, and Lilly Endowment are prioritizing funding newsrooms that support underrepresented communities and offer access to the news and information people need to navigate their specific geographies and social systems. To close the funding gap for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) newsrooms, Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund has awarded over $5.2 million to 44 POC-led and -serving organizations. The Institute for Nonprofit News launched the, which centers rural voices and supports collaborative reporting. Lilly Endowment has awarded targeted funding of $4 million to the Religion News Service to support its editorial work and expand and diversify its audience.

Philanthropy’s impact on local news thus far
Major funders are tailoring their grantmaking and enlisting partners to learn about the challenges local outlets face and fill funding gaps. Philanthropic support of local news is slowly starting to pay off: A 2023 Knight Foundation report about the organization’s programs in this area found that participating newsrooms saw increased revenue and audience engagement. In her speech at this year’s Knight Media Forum, foundation president and CEO Maribel Pérez Wadsworth highlighted that philanthropy is a tool among many to help news outlets become sustainable: “No matter how a news organization is structured, or who owns it, it requires multiple and diverse revenue streams to provide stability and allow for independence, and the trust that comes with it.”

Read the full article about foundation funding for local news by Samantha Mercado at Candid.