Built to last: Highlights from AJPalooza 2024

Since our launch in 2019, nonprofit local news has grown significantly: new nonprofit news organizations are emerging across the country, philanthropy is making major new commitments to the field, and civic leaders are stepping up to champion new local news efforts.

Amid this growth, one thing is certain: it’s vital to build local news organizations that are resilient, sustainable, and can endure through changing market conditions. This was our focus during AJPalooza 2024, the American Journalism Project’s annual gathering of our grantee portfolio, local and national supporters, and partners in the effort to rebuild local news. 

For three days, we gathered in Minneapolis; our theme, “Built to last: Nonprofit news that endures” was accentuated by a first-hand look at the ongoing success of Sahan Journal, the Twin Cities-based news organization serving Minnesota’s immigrant communities and people of color. Together, we looked at ways to build thriving local news organizations, and spent time learning about Sahan Journal’s growth, success, and service to Minnesota’s diverse communities. Here are some highlights from this year’s convening:


Snapshots of momentum in the field

Bro Krift (L), CEO of Free Press Indiana, and Oseye Boyd (R), Editor-in-Chief of Mirror Indy

To kick off AJPalooza, leaders from four organizations — Free Press Indiana, Wisconsin Watch, Civic News Company and Deep South Today — shared about the momentum they’ve built in the past past year. From Free Press Indiana launching its first newsroom, Mirror Indy, to Deep South Today launching as the nonprofit network connecting Mississippi Today and Verite, these organizations were powerful snapshots of the growth we’re seeing across our portfolio of grantees.

Building enduring nonprofit news organizations: The state of our portfolio

Michael Ouimette (L), Chief Investment Officer of American Journalism Project, and Morgan Malone (R), Executive Director of City Bureau.

In a conversation moderated by Richard Tofel, leaders from Spotlight PA, City Bureau and Sahan Journal shared their perspectives on building sustainable scale in their communities. Michael Ouimette, AJP’s chief investment officer, gave our “State of the Portfolio” update, an annual overview of the growth of our portfolio of 44 grantee organizations, which operates in 33 states. Our grantees had a strong year of growth last year, growing revenue by more than $86 million — a 36 percent increase over their 2022 revenue. Click here to view the slides from the State of the Portfolio presentation, and read our 2024 Impact Report for an in-depth look at the data shared.


The value of local champions

Tonya Allen, President of the McKnight Foundation

Throughout AJPalooza, we heard from civic leaders championing local news in their communities — people like Tonya Allen, president of the McKnight Foundation, who gave an inspiring set of remarks at our opening night dinner. Her call to deepen sustaining support for local news, just as McKnight has done for Sahan Journal, illustrated the powerful way funders and supporters can serve as strong champions for local news organizations.

We also heard from other community funders supporting and advocating for local news organizations in their communities, such as Dave Ferrante, a supporter of Signal Ohio and president of the Kaplan Truck Company. Ferrante shared his personal connection to the decline of local news in Cleveland, his hometown, and his passion for supporting innovative media organizations that challenge the status quo.  


Local news on the rise in Minnesota

AJPalooza guests visit George Floyd Square near the anniversary of Floyd’s murder. Photo credit: Amar Rajwani.

At its heart, local journalism is about understanding communities and the people in them; each year at AJPalooza, we spend dedicated time learning about and visiting the communities where we gather. This year, AJPalooza attendees went on two community trips organized by Sahan Journal, including a powerful visit to George Floyd Square and its surrounding area near the fourth anniversary of Floyd’s murder, and an exploration of the Cedar Cultural Center, which serves a vibrant and growing community of immigrants.

From L to R: Tanner Curl, MinnPost, Duchesne Drew, Minnesota Public Radio, Mukhtar M. Ibrahim, Sahan Journal, and Sarabeth Berman, American Journalism Project

Our time in the Twin Cities was punctuated by a compelling conversation with three nonprofit local news leaders: Tanner Curl, executive director of MinnPost, one of the first local nonprofit news organizations in the country; Duchesne Drew, president of Minnesota Public Radio; and Mukhtar M. Ibrahim, founder and CEO of AJP grantee Sahan Journal. Together, these newsrooms are filling gaps in reporting, and are creating forward-thinking journalism that serves Minnesota’s vibrantly diverse communities. The three shared about the momentum they’re building as they build new ways to create, deliver and sustain local news.

Ideas you can steal: Smart ways to build sustainability 

AJPalooza guests participate in table discussions.

Throughout the convening, AJP portfolio organizations, local philanthropists and community partners uplifted the strategies and tactics that are working well in their efforts to rebuild local news. AJPalooza’s menu of sessions included topics such as movement building, measuring and communicating impact, building agile organizations, building trusted brands, and creating adaptable and resilient teams. The sessions highlighted ideas attendees could “steal” for their use; a list of those ideas are here.

AJPalooza 2024 was an invigorating, inspiring time with our community. We left feeling optimistic for a sustainable, enduring future for our field.


All photos by Matt Shiffler unless otherwise credited.