This is not fake news: People are losing their faith in journalism.

In a 2018 poll conducted by the consultancy firm Edelman about trust in the media, 59 percent said it was getting harder to tell if a piece of news was produced by a respected outlet and nearly seven in 10 respondents worried that misinformation would be weaponized, concerns that have been growing since the 2016 election cycle, as this Pew Research data shows.

That’s where the News Integrity Initiative (NII) comes in. Launched in April 2017, NII is a collection of funders (among them are Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Knight Foundation, Facebook and the Democracy Fund) hoping to build a better connection between journalists and the communities they serve. Part of that means increasing the presence of marginalized voices within newsrooms and another part means fighting back against bad actors spreading falsehoods.

“We simply want to support more people doing trustworthy journalism,” Craig Newmark tells Giving Compass. “2016 was a wakeup call.”

To date, NII has doled out 20 grants totaling more than $4.6 million across a wide spectrum of programs across the world. These include the Center For Investigative Reporting’s Reveal Lab (which collaborates with communities to tell engaging stories around local issues), the Maynard Institute (which aims to train 200 minority journalists within the next five years) and First Draft News (which helps the media identify and eliminate misinformation).

“If you could wave a magic wand and create a newsroom made up of an incredible diversity of people and experiences and backgrounds, it could revolutionize journalism,” says Molly de Aguiar, NII’s Managing Director. “People would see themselves reflected more accurately.”

A Call For Bolder Actions, Newer Models

Philanthropists want to fix things that are broken, but there are some obstacles when it comes to investing in journalistic institutions. How do you show impact? What measurement tools are in place? And do you even want to mess with an institution as messy as the media?

“Particularly in this polarized environment, there's a general feeling of like, ‘Oh my god, I don't want to step into this,’” says de Aguiar.  “But there are lots of ways funders can enter the picture that would be incredibly useful.”

For example, getting involved in a local project like Reach NC Voices, which surveys state residents in real time to get feedback on the issues that are most important to them, is relatively cost-effective and uses tools that many impact nonprofits are already intimately familiar with: collecting data. The key is to create community engagement, which is also something any funder can buy into.

As de Aguiar explains:

In this new landscape for sustainability, we need newsrooms that are actually more responsive to what people want, instead of the old method of we're gonna decide on all the stories, write them and put them out there and you're going to like them. That model doesn't work anymore. The new model is listening and being responsive to the public.

3 Things You Can Do To Make an Impact

Fund infrastructure, not content. “You can never get to impact without providing some kind of operating support that allows an organization to thrive and be able to work,” de Aguiar says. While this isn’t as sexy as other types of funding, it’s essential that journalists be given the tools to succeed — whether that’s more staff or digital upgrades or ways to generate revenue — not be told what to cover. This also shields both grantmakers and grantees from accusations of bias.

Be patient. Results aren’t going to happen overnight. “It’s expensive and it's long-term work,” which is hard because funders don't want to stick with stuff for that long,” says de Aguiar. But the payoff is worth it. Building up the fourth estate is invaluable to strengthening our democracy, and you can be part of that process. If you’re looking for ways to get started, check out Media Impact Funder’s Journalism and Media Grantmaking Guide, Wyncote Foundation’s report on investing in local journalism and Lessons Learned from the Local News Lab.

Be humble. Even as big as the NII’s commitment is, it can only do so much in a limited amount of time. The initiative set a limit of four years for its grants, partly as a way to maintain focus, but also with an eye on the future. Explains de Aguiar, “I tend to think of ourselves as running part of a relay race, where our four years is running the best possible leg of the race we can before we pass the baton on to other funders and partners who care about journalism that serve communities in new and richer ways.”