Funding will support social entrepreneurs in building sustainable nonprofit news organizations as more communities call for a new approach to local news in the face of newspaper industry decline.
Washington, D.C. — Today the American Journalism Project, a new, nonpartisan venture philanthropy organization dedicated to local news, announced its first grants to 11 nonprofit, local civic news organizations (CNOs), as well as new funding from Democracy Fund and participation in a collaborative fund focused on racial equity in journalism.
These grants will give CNOs the resources to grow their business, technology, and fundraising capacity. Additionally, the American Journalism Project team will provide close support over 24 to 36 months to drive their focus on revenue and sustainability.
Grantees included in today’s announcement are: Berkeleyside (East Bay, CA); Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (San Juan, PR); City Bureau (Chicago, IL); The Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT); inewsource (San Diego, CA); Mississippi Today (Ridgeland, MS); MLK50: Justice Through Journalism (Memphis, TN); NOISE (Omaha, NE); Underscore (Portland OR); WyoFile (Lander, WY); and VTDigger (Montpelier, VT).
“What distinguishes these CNOs is strong, entrepreneurial leadership and community buy-in. They are eager to take on the challenge of creative new business models for local news, but what’s been missing until now is the philanthropic capital to support them,” said Elizabeth Green, CEO and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat and co-founder and Board Chair of the American Journalism Project.
AJP was founded in 2018 with a vision for a thriving ecosystem of local, civic journalism that strengthens democracy in the U.S. In what is a rapidly growing crisis in local communities across the country, commercial newspapers that until a generation ago met local information needs face a catastrophic market failure. AJP will help drive an order-of-magnitude increase in local journalism philanthropy and help communities learn to view local journalism as a public good, primarily civic rather than commercial in nature.
Once rare, nonprofit newsrooms today produce journalism with extraordinary impact, connect citizens more deeply with their communities, make government and policy decision making more accessible, and fill the ever-widening gap in local newsgathering and reporting on which our democracy depends. They operate in nearly every U.S. state and represent a diverse range of newsroom budgets, communities served, stages of growth, and revenue models.
Last month, a poll from Knight Foundation and Gallup found that an extraordinary 86 percent of Americans believe that local news should be accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay. At the same time, only 20 percent say they have supported local news financially in the last year. AJP and its grantees will work together to grow that number and catalyze an upswell of support from Americans who depend on and engage with local civic news organizations.
“While the commercial local news business gets nothing but worse, the number of nonprofit local news organizations has exploded over the last decade. And like it or not, sustained philanthropy is the key ingredient. As philanthropists, we must act urgently to give these organizations, which are fundamentally civic rather than commercial in nature, the time, talent, and tools they need to be financially sustainable,” said John Thornton, co-founder of the American Journalism Project and founder of The Texas Tribune.
“The American Journalism Project is helping nonprofit news organizations build the business, technology and fundraising skills they need to sustain themselves,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation, AJP’s lead funder. “If you have money and care about the future of democracy, investing in the American Journalism Project is a way to have a structural impact, by helping build a sustainable ecosystem for local news in America.”
AJP also announced today a new commitment from Democracy Fund, bringing the total amount it has raised since 2018 to more than $46 million.
“A healthy democracy requires that all Americans have ways to understand and fully participate in the civic life of their communities and nation. Vibrant nonprofit media ensure that people have the tools they need to hold leaders accountable and combat misinformation, while ultimately contributing to deeper levels of civic engagement,” said Joe Goldman, president of Democracy Fund.
Additionally, AJP is joining the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, a new donor collaborative based at Borealis Philanthropy that seeks to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of news organizations led by people of color and increase civic engagement for communities of color.
Funding for AJP comes from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Arnold Ventures, Emerson Collective, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Democracy Fund, Christopher Buck and Dr. Hara Schwartz, Facebook Journalism Project, and John and Erin Thornton.
The American Journalism Project will make additional grants in 2020. For more information or to learn how to support this work, visit: www.theajp.org.
Candace McAdams Pugatch