Despite its critical role in our communities and our democracy, local news is in crisis. As Penny Abernathy, a scholar at the University of North Carolina wrote in her 2020 edition of The Expanding News Desert report: “In the 15 years leading up to 2020, more than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers disappeared,” affecting 1,800 communities. We’re continuing to lose newsrooms across the country, and too many American cities and rural communities lack any source of trusted news about what’s happening around them.
Local news organizations and affiliated organizations are mobilizing to advocate for the government to help revitalize local news. Many organizations, including The American Journalism Project, are part of Rebuild Local News, a broad coalition of media sector leaders leading the charge.
Congress is so concerned by the demise of local news, particularly the collapse of commercial local newspapers in this country that there is a bill, H.R.3940 - Local Journalism Sustainability Act, being considered on Capitol Hill.
Last year, the Future of Local News Commission Act was also introduced in an effort to examine the role of local newsgathering in sustaining democracy and to propose policies to reinvigorate the field to meet critical information needs across the country.
And philanthropy is stepping up. According to a Media Impact Funders 2019 report, “Journalism-focused philanthropy has nearly quadrupled since 2009, when just under 300 funders made $69 million in grants to just over 300 recipient organizations in the United States.”
This work is just beginning. There’s more to be done, and we’re hoping you’ll join us.
Funding the News
Welcome to Democracy & Informed Communities, a new Giving Compass collection about funding the news.
We represent the American Journalism Project, the first-ever venture philanthropy dedicated to revitalizing the nation’s nonprofit local news ecosystem. We deploy capital, launch newsrooms, and provide hands-on coaching to our grantees to support the business side of independent nonprofit newsrooms. Our mission is to support and sustain civic local journalism as a public good.
As curators of this section, we have a specific goal: To highlight the greater mission and impact of nonprofit news in the United States. Our work is one part of this field.
Our collection is about informing you, the individual giver (whether you’re just starting out in your charitable giving, representing a family foundation, or anywhere in between) with insights from the experts driving forward systems change and meaningful outcomes.
This section is titled Democracy & Informed Communities because of the direct and tangible link between a vibrant representative democracy and, well, an informed community.
We will admit to a working thesis and core belief about this section. We believe that accurate, vetted, and trusted information equips neighbors and residents to participate in their communities as stakeholders, and to make informed decisions about the issues critical to their daily lives.
In fact, we can give you a quick preview of the connection between local news and civic engagement:
- A study from researchers at MIT, Yale, and Science Po showing how voters become more polarized in communities that lose a local paper.
- Research showing newsrooms can help decrease political polarization by focusing on local issues instead of national.
- Research from Matthew Gentzkow, a Stanford economist, showing towns with newspapers have greater voter turnout.
The newly formed Partnership for American Democracy underscored the importance of this relationship with their inclusion of “Trust in Information” as one of the key pillars for strengthening democracy.*
In this collection, you’ll hear from leading philanthropists, both individual and institutional, working to place the nonprofit news sector on the path to sustainably rebuilding the core civic infrastructure of local journalism. Our articles and interviews will feature:
- Individual philanthropists discussing their reasons for making informing their communities a philanthropic priority
- Place-based funders exploring the role of local news in their community
- National funders introducing different approaches to journalism philanthropy
- Learnings from the American Journalism Project and our grantee newsrooms
We’ll feature actionable information and interesting insights into an emerging philanthropic practice. Our goal is to become the resource you turn to as you explore the role you want to play in sustaining civic journalism in your community or across the country.
And we want to hear from you. As we grow this collection, we welcome your suggestions, your engagement, and your perspective. Write to email@example.com to tell us what you’re learning -- and what you’d like to.
Let’s get started.
*Full disclosure: Alice Rhee is a co-chair of that pillar.