Journalism philanthropy has quadrupled in the last eight years. According to data from Foundation Maps for Media Funding—our research and mapping tool developed in partnership with Candid that tracks the scope of philanthropically funded media worldwide—more than $255 million in journalism grants were made in 2017. That’s up from $69 million in 2009.
As the decline of local news in communities across America continues, we expect that number will only grow.
Why? Because with limited resources and dwindling revenues paralyzing the news industry, it’s clear that journalism needs financial support now more than ever. When news organizations falter, issues at the center of civic life— education, the environment, health, social justice, and economic progress—receive less independent scrutiny from journalists, and citizens have less access to the information they need to engage effectively in their communities. At the same time, misleading stories or fake news masquerading as real news have exploited that information void, causing confusion about who and what to trust.
In response to these challenges, foundations have stepped up to build, support and sustain journalism efforts around the country with a variety of strategy and approaches that reflect the urgency of the moment we’re in. There are too many to name in this article, but here are a few that reflect the broadened scope of support:
- Increasingly, community foundations have joined in efforts to build and sustain local news. Since 2009, community foundations have given $17 million to investigative reporting operations, and continue to play a critically important role in maintaining local news operations for the communities they serve. In Fresno, Calif., the Fresno Bee, with support from the Central Valley Community Foundation, established the Education Lab to provide solutions-oriented responses to an area that for years has fallen behind in educational attainment. Learn more.
- In early 2019, the American Journalism Project launched a major effort to reinvigorate local news with $42 million in founding commitments from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Emerson Collective, and several others. The venture philanthropy fund will provide transformative grants and executive-level support to local, nonprofit civic news organizations across the U.S. Learn more.
- The Walton Family Foundation, which characterizes itself as a former nonmedia funder (and now a nontraditional media funder), funded the creation of a coastal desk at the New Orleans Times-Picayune/NOLA.com in 2017 because of a deep concern about communicating the story of coastal Louisiana’s land-loss crisis. Learn more.
- In an effort to address the lack of storytelling on underrepresented populations, and the lack of diversity inside the newsrooms themselves, many foundations have responded with grants to support diversity efforts. Recently, Borealis Philanthropy announced the launch of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, which will invest in news organizations led by people of color to increase civic engagement for communities of color. Current partners include the Ford Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and others. Learn more.
- In 2014 in Flint, Mich., reports of unsafe drinking water were being ignored. The Ford Foundation responded by funding the hiring of an investigative reporter at the ACLU of Michigan. It turns out that this hiring led to a set of revelations that uncovered a national scandal and the political upheaval that ensued. Learn more.
Where Can Donors Start?
While not all funders consider themselves media funders, more are becoming aware that—regardless of their programmatic goals and issue area—supporting media not only helps them achieve their stated objectives, but also serves as a powerful tool for social change.
Keeping in mind that you do not need to have a formal journalism program to make grants that support healthy news and information flows, in 2017 we released Journalism and Media Grantmaking: Five Things You Need to Know, and Five Ways to Get Started, a starter guide for foundations and individual donors interested in making news and information grants. In addition to key insights about the state of the field, the booklet provides concrete action steps.
We also support journalism funders through our Journalism Funders Network, a diverse group of more than 50 philanthropic organizations and individual donors that convene regularly, in-person and online, to strengthen connections among members and to offer funders opportunities to discuss their work among peers. We’ve found that regular convenings with our Journalism Funders Network have helped funders develop closer relationships within areas of shared funding and facilitated a growing sense of cohesion across funding areas to more effectively face the challenges to the journalism landscape. The convenings offer deeper insights into the current trends and future directions of journalism funding, which we incorporate into our research and field-building work.
You can find more of the latest data and trends on journalism funding in our newly released report, Journalism Grantmaking: New Funding, Models and Partnerships to Sustain and Grow the Field.
Original contribution by Nina Sachdev, Communications Director, Media Impact Funders.