The Rise of Local Foundations and Individuals Supporting Local Journalism

By: Kelley Collins |  kcollins@newzgroup.com | and Terry A. Yates, Jr  | tyates@newzgroup.com | @GroupNewz

Over the past few years, grant funds and local foundations have been putting their money towards local and rural journalism.  Local foundations include Report for America and Solutions Journalism Network, along with a vast variety of others such as the Knight Foundation, Alexia Foundation, Gruber Family Foundation…the list goes on and on!

The LOR Foundation partners with a collection of rural communities located in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Their goal is to expand reach and perspective from rural newsrooms to gain national attention.

In 2016, the LOR Foundation and the Solutions Journalism Network launched a collaborative pilot program that impacts 7 New Mexico and Colorado newsrooms. In 6 months, they produced 50 total stories which focused on different issues that impacted the rural communities. Some of the issues featured were of health care access and water use.

“Land use or water rights or affordable housing or access to healthcare, to broadband: 90 percent of those issues travel across 90 percent of the community,” Keith Hammonds, SJN president explained. “The question is how can we create connections between both newsrooms and these civic actors and between the journalists and the civic actors to help the stories and the underlying intelligence travel to where they’re needed across the region?”

Both the LOR Foundation and the Solutions Journalism Network surveyed 1,540 residents in the states of Montana, Colorado, and New Mexico. 20 percent of residents said that they find local news “consistently relevant and valuable.” 80 percent of residents said that they find their local news on Facebook.

LOR’s mission is to focus on training newsrooms to enhance the solutions in their reporting. In fact, local foundations have now committed over a total of 660,000 dollars in just one year in order to develop the Solutions Journalism Network’s training in newsrooms in order to connect and engage with their rural community.

In 2017, the LOR Foundation expanded to 12 newsrooms from their previous 7 in just 9 months. “I think it’s incredibly important that local and regional foundations see the importance of local media as part of the infrastructure of civic life in their communities and also see the indelible importance, the relationship between high-quality local reporting and the rest of civic life they are funding,” Hammonds said.

Individuals can impact rural journalism as well and oftentimes all it takes is a great pitch. Stevie Lowery, editor and publisher of “The Lebanon”, focused on local stories, such as a five-part series on drug-use, that brought it national attention. The impact of this not only garnered publicity, but secured funding for the local paper in the process. “The Connecticut Mirror” publisher Bruce Putterman was able to obtain $100,000 in sponsorships for two in-depth series, two or three planned community conversations related to the projects and money for general operating expenses.

Two reporters, Jonathan Bullington and Richard Webster, applied for a fellowship that lead to their series, “The Children of Central City,” that told local stories of childhood trauma. Without the fellowship grants, the project would’ve possibly never seen the light of day or the scope of the piece compromised limiting the reporters’ ability to embed and really tell the story they wanted to tell.

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The notion of public funding for journalism has also taken root recently. The Cairncross Review, an independent report presenting an overview of challenges facing high-quality journalism in the UK, was published earlier this year. Tasked with core tenants of reviewing the overall state of the UK news market, the threats to financial stability, the role and impact of search engines and social media, and the role of digital advertising.

The report concludes that the impact of Google and Facebook on the news media, taking up 60% of advertising revenue, should be investigated. The report also suggests a new regulator oversee the relationship of tech giants and news outlets. The report also notes that a lot of newsrooms are failing due to the overburden of debt, cutting investments in reporting and laying off journalists in order to maintain profit margins. To combat this, it is suggested some tax relief or charitable status for publishers that invest in public interest journalism.

Over the past decade, billionaires have stepped up to purchase struggling newspapers. Jeff Bezos did as much in 2013, buying “The Washington Post.” First seen as a ruinous prospect that would be rife with ethical conflicts stymying the papers ability to do its job, Bezos instead empowered the newspaper to expand and compete in the digital era. “The Boston Globe” was purchased by the Henry family and began to focus heavily on digital content which resulted in the paper having more digital subscribers than their print editions.

Wealthy individuals have donated large sums of their money to journalism efforts. Craig Newark did so with the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY and the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security at the Columbia School of Journalism. In 2017, Gerry Lenfest created the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, focused on sustaining and advancing independent local journalism in the digital era.

Local newspapers have been a vital part of a functioning democracy and communities for innumerable years. Founding father James Madison made this point in his day, “A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” The proliferation of fake news and the diminishing investment in investigative journalism, that is often viewed as rarely paying for itself, has proven that the need for high-quality news reporting must remain of paramount importance. Newz Group will continue to support local journalism, through our E-Edition solutions, and providing media monitoring services, like our Newzroom, that leverage local content from rural communities and newspapers that are most often found in the “news deserts” and missed by the algorithms of Google, Facebook, and larger outlets.

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