American Journalism Project Launches Major Effort to Reinvigorate Local News with $42 Million in Founding Commitments
Dec. 10, 2019 update: Read about our first grants to support 11 civic news organizations across the country.
New venture philanthropy organization will work collaboratively to catalyze a new generation of civic news organizations
Miami, Fla. — The American Journalism Project, a new initiative to reinvigorate mission-driven local news through the power of venture philanthropy, today announced its official launch with $42 million in lead funding commitments, a Board of Directors, and its first three hires.
Founded by Elizabeth Green and John Thornton (founders of Chalkbeat and The Texas Tribune, respectively), the American Journalism Project is the first venture philanthropy organization dedicated to strengthening an ecosystem of civic news organizations that believe local journalism a public good.
The organization will support existing and emerging news organizations with grants and hands-on support to ensure their long-term sustainability through diverse revenue generation and modern technology operations. With these investments, the American Journalism Project will help transition these organizations from primarily grant-funded newsrooms into integrated nonprofit media organizations and catalyze a step-function increase in journalism philanthropy.
“Local news coverage on topics of civic interest is a public good: vital to informed decision-making in a democracy, but no longer supported by the private market,” said Elizabeth Green, CEO and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat and Board Chair of the American Journalism Project. “Plenty of journalists are ready to take on this challenge by developing creative new business models in the public interest. What’s been missing is the philanthropic capital to truly support them.”
Collaboration across the philanthropic field
Through the American Journalism Project, major funders are coming together to help build the philanthropic foundation for local news. Community and place-based foundations, major individual donors and institutional funders will work collectively to scale best practices from across the news and nonprofit landscapes, institutionalize support for civic news organization leadership and ensure civic news organizations of all sizes and stages of development are supported in service to the public interest.
In February, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $20 million, 5-year commitment to the American Journalism Project. At least $10 million of that amount will be dedicated to the initial fund, which is targeted at $50 million to support up to 35 local news organizations. Knight support for the American Journalism Project is part of a major initiative focused on building a strong future for local news and information.
“News at the local level – the shortest distance between the news and the people – is where there is the most opportunity to rebuild the trust that has gone missing from our community dialogue. It’s where the American Journalism Project is focusing its efforts to restore local news availability, promote an expectation of reliability, and experiment both with uses of evolving technology and a range of revenue streams new to digital journalism,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation President.
Joining Knight Foundation as American Journalism Project lead supporters are: Arnold Ventures, Emerson Collective, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Facebook Journalism Project, and philanthropist Christopher Buck. The Democracy Fund and Erin and John Thornton provided initial seed support in 2018. The Institute for Nonprofit News and News Revenue Hub are providing additional strategic and operational guidance.
“We’ve been gratified and encouraged by the response. Our lead investors are visionary philanthropists who see the crisis in local news as a national problem and are coming together in an unprecedented way,” said John Thornton, who will serve as the American Journalism Project’s first managing director.
“I’m supporting the American Journalism Project because our country depends on it,” said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. “Reliable sources of trustworthy, local coverage help to ensure the public is informed, and that’s critical to a healthy democracy.”
”Quality, independent journalism is a cornerstone of a vibrant community. In particular, local newsrooms inform and inspire, and hold leaders accountable. As traditional local papers continue to downsize, emerging nonprofit news organizations are strengthening civic engagement in cities large and small,” said Peter Lattman, managing director of media at Emerson Collective. “Emerson Collective is proud to support the American Journalism Project, an important new funding resource that will help ensure these newsrooms thrive for decades to come.”
“We’re proud to support the American Journalism Project in their efforts to grow and sustain a new approach to local news,” said Anne Kornblut, Director of New Initiatives, News Partnerships, Facebook. “Local news is so critical to building strong communities, and to a thriving democracy. We look forward to partnering with them on this effort to bring more local news and information to places that really need them.”
“At a time of great experimentation around new models for news, the American Journalism Project’s injection of capital to test, build and learn from successful nonprofit news organizations can be a game-changer for local journalism,” said Sue Cross, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News. “We look forward to using these learnings to lift the whole field.”
Founding team members
In addition to Green and Thornton, the American Journalism Project announced three members of its startup team, highly regarded hires from organizations and projects that have been instrumental to advancing the field of nonprofit and local news.
Jason Alcorn joins the American Journalism Project as VP of operations after two years as project director for NewsMatch, a national matching-gift campaign that in November and December 2018 raised $7.6 million for nonprofit newsrooms through a national challenge match, wrap-around coaching and support, and a national campaign to promote giving to journalism among donors. Alcorn has worked with Democracy Fund, the Institute for Nonprofit News and nonprofit newsrooms including InvestigateWest, where he was associate director. He is currently an advisor to the Listening Post Collective and Migratory Notes.
Anna Nirmala joins as Director of Portfolio Development. Nirmala joins the organization from Hearken, a groundbreaking woman-owned company that facilitated a unique public-powered model for journalism and has more than 100 newsroom partners around the world. As Director of Business Development, Nirmala was responsible for the company’s revenue growth and enterprise client management. She was previously a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, focusing on Strategy & Operations for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses.
Gonzalo del Peon joins as an Associate. Del Peon is a graduate of New York University’s Studio 20 master’s program on digital journalism and innovation, where he focused on mission and revenue alignment in news. Since 2017, he has been a researcher for the Membership Puzzle Project and was the American Press Institute’s 2018 summer fellow, where he studied audience-focused revenue diversification and user research practices within news organizations. Del Peon graduated from The New School with a BBA in Strategic Design and Management and a minor in Journalism + Design.
The American Journalism Project will maintain its engagement with consulting firm Due East Partners, which has provided core operational and strategic support in advance of today’s announcement.
The board of directors includes Rosental Alves, founding director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas; Karen Pittman, president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment; and Irving Washington, executive director of the Online News Association; as well as Green and Thornton.
Information about the American Journalism Project’s investment process will be available beginning this summer. Sign up for updates at theajp.org or follow the American Journalism Project on Twitter at @JournalismProj.
Individuals and foundations interested in discussing a philanthropic contribution to the American Journalism Project are invited to contact Jason Alcorn at firstname.lastname@example.org or John Thornton at email@example.com. The American Journalism Project is a 501(c)3 charity and contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law.
About Elizabeth Green
Elizabeth Green is co-founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, the nonprofit news organization dedicated to telling the story of education in America, one community at a time. Founded in 2014, Chalkbeat is now one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing nonprofit news organizations, with reporters in seven locations. Elizabeth is also the author of Building a Better Teacher, the New York Times Book Review notable book of 2014 and bestseller.
About John Thornton
John Thornton is a venture capitalist at Austin Ventures, where he has co-led the technology practice for more than two decades. He also co-founded venture capital firm Elsewhere Partners in 2017. In 2008, John founded the Texas Tribune, the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.
About the Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.
About Arnold Ventures
Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States, whose mission is to improve lives by investing in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice. Arnold Ventures manages the grantmaking activity for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Action Now Initiative, and the Arnolds’ donor-advised fund.
About Emerson Collective
Emerson Collective is a social change organization that uses a broad range of tools to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Established and led by Laurene Powell Jobs, Emerson Collective uses philanthropy, impact investing, advocacy and community activation in order to remove barriers to justice for individuals, families and communities across the country.
About Craig Newmark Philanthropies
Craig Newmark Philanthropies was created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to support and connect people and drive broad civic engagement. The organization works to advance people and grassroots organizations that are getting stuff done in areas that include trustworthy journalism, voter protection, gender diversity in technology, and veterans and military families. For more information, please visit: CraigNewmarkPhilanthropies.org.
About the Facebook Journalism Project
The Facebook Journalism Project was created in January 2017 to establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry. FJP is dedicated to ensuring high quality journalism thrives by delivering value through new products, partnerships with the news industry and programs. FJP works in three ways: collaborative development of new products; providing tools and trainings for journalists; and providing tools and trainings for people.
About Democracy Fund
Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $100 million in support of effective governance, modern elections, and a vibrant public square. For more, visit democracyfund.org.