Building sustainable local news: AJP’s pathway to impact

At the American Journalism Project, we rally philanthropic dollars to build and grow sustainable nonprofit news organizations. Since our launch in 2019, we’ve codified the focal areas of our work, grown our team, and invested in 41 nonprofit news organizations — with strong results. Since our work has grown in its complexity and breadth, we’re taking a moment now to share more details about how we work.

To date, we’ve committed over $42 million to nonprofit news enterprises, mobilized an additional $53 million from local philanthropy to launch market-specific local news initiatives, and are focused on deploying more dollars to help scale promising business models. Over the past few years, we’ve helped launch ambitious local news startups; helped inspire waves of new investments by local philanthropy; and most importantly, helped fuel more original local journalism in communities across the country. 

Our portfolio of grantees represents some of the country’s most promising local news organizations, and they provide essential reporting — including Mississippi Today’s Pulitzer-winning series on the misuse of state welfare funds, VTDigger’s coverage of devastating floods, and programs like Documented’s innovative outreach efforts. In 2022, our portfolio generated $65 million in revenue.

We’ve built a strong team that’s diverse in background, geography and function — and it’s a team that’s willing to dig in deep alongside our partners. Led by Michael Ouimette, AJP’s chief investment officer, our program team works with philanthropists and nonprofit news leaders to advance a thriving, sustainable local news field. Our program team focuses on these four areas:

  • Growth investments and venture support:

     Our investments serve as growth capital for our grantees, enabling long-term revenue growth at these organizations. Our first cohort of grantees grew their combined revenue of $10 to $25 million in their third year of AJP support, resulting in a 4.9X return on our initial annual investment.

    Our venture support is focused on helping our grantees advance key areas of expertise: growth planning, revenue generation, talent and hiring, and finance and operations. This year, we’re expanding this support to include audience development and product support, including the exploration of ways artificial intelligence can support local news, which we announced this summer. 

    Darrin Kerr, our new head of growth investments, joins us from Teach for All, where he led efforts to scale its global network of 60+ organizations. He leads our Growth Investments team, which includes Jason Alcorn, vice president of growth investments, Michelle Srbinovich, vice president of growth investments, Matthew Mantica, director of growth investments, Ashleé Clark, manager of growth investments, and Heidi Zheng, senior manager of portfolio insights, who harvests insights and data from our work to aid in our learning and impact evaluation. This work is also supported by Gonzalo del Peon, program strategy and operations lead, who helps AJP stay connected with the local news field at large, builds our pipeline of potential investments, and manages our grantmaking process.

    We’re adding many more grantees to our portfolio over the coming year, and are hiring a third Vice President of Growth Investments to help with venture support as our portfolio expands. For more information on our grantmaking, including the types of organizations we’re looking to fund, visit our website or get in touch.


  • Local philanthropy partnerships:

    In response to interest from local philanthropies across the country, we’ve developed a program to work with civic leaders, place-based funders and news organizations to identify and address information gaps in communities. We design solutions to address local information gaps by fostering collaboration, facilitating investments in existing local outlets, and launching new startup nonprofit newsrooms through our Startups Studio, which is explained in detail below.

    Our work in this area is guided by insights we’ve gathered over years of working closely with local philanthropies to build bespoke solutions to the local news crisis. We’ve heard from local philanthropies, who have shared that while they see the need for more local news and information in their communities, they often don’t have a history of journalism grantmaking or a dedicated program officer leading their foundation’s investments in local news. As a result, we’ve designed our program to organize coalitions of local media leaders, philanthropists, and civic leaders to explore the right local news strategies for their communities. Through this program, we conduct extensive market research on local trends and demographics, and assess the current state of local news, including through comprehensive community listening. We use this research to design custom solutions for community information needs, identifying sustainable ways to leverage philanthropic dollars in the process.

    So far, AJP has conducted this work in 10 communities including Ohio, Indiana and Houston, and galvanized $53 million from local philanthropies for these projects. And as we work to bring more philanthropists into the important work of financing and sustaining local news, this work will continue to expand.

    This work is led by Hermione Malone, head of emerging markets, and is supported by Linnea Ashley, AJP’s new director of market research and strategy, and Alina Panek, local partnerships associate. In addition, we work with a dedicated team of consultants who are leading experts in community listening and market analysis. Together, this robust team works closely with our local partners to replicate the success we’ve seen in other markets.


  • Startups Studio:

    In markets where local coalitions raise philanthropic capital to launch new local news initiatives, our startups studio team supports the launch of new operations. We build these news organizations from the ground up — including establishing the organization and its local board, recruiting and hiring the news organization’s founding management team, raising the seed capital, and designing strategic and equitable organizations.

    So far, AJP’s Startups Studio has helped launch Signal Ohio (originally the Ohio Local News Initiative), Houston Landing (the Houston Local News Initiative) and the Indiana Local News Initiative, which will launch its first newsroom later this year. We’ve designed a strong program and team that set the conditions for success as much as possible, helping alleviate many of the challenges that new startups often face, and are excited to continue this work in more communities.

    This team is led by Loretta Chao, head of startup studio & local news innovation, and is supported by Rachel Stark Hochman, vice president of finance & operations, and Amanda Erickson, vice president of newsroom strategy. Alina Panek, local partnerships associate, also supports our work to build local philanthropic support in these communities.

  • Local News Incubator:

    Inspired by the success of organizations like Capital B and Mountain State Spotlight, which used pre-launch grants from AJP and startup support to build successful news organizations, our local news incubator aims to accelerate outstanding entrepreneurs’ progress in launching local nonprofit news organizations by ensuring they have access to capital and best practices from the start.

    Hermione Malone, head of emerging markets, leads the incubator, collaboratively supported by others from AJP’s program team. The local news incubator is currently working with eight entrepreneurs to help build and launch their work.


If you’re leading a local nonprofit news organization, are a local funder who wants to explore solutions for your community, or want to join our team, we want to hear from you: visit our website to learn more, or send us a note to get in touch. We’re eager to continue accelerating the field — and we’re excited to work with more and more communities across the country. 

Sarabeth Berman is chief executive officer of the American Journalism Project. Find her on Twitter at @sarabethberman.