Sharing criteria for what the American Journalism Project will fund

Today we’re excited to share publicly the funding criteria of the American Journalism Project. Our goal is to be transparent about our intentions and goals, and to help organizations know when and how they can reach out to us to begin a conversation.

When Elizabeth Green and John Thornton first conceived of the American Journalism Project nearly two years ago, the idea was based on three interlocking beliefs:

Unless and until we come to view our local news institutions as fundamentally civic rather than commercial in nature, these institutions will continue to fail us.

Over these past two years, what Elizabeth and John strongly suspected has only become more clear: the healthy local news ecosystem that a healthy democracy demands will require a decidedly non-market intervention, in the form of what we’ve taken to calling a civic news organization, or CNO. What is a CNO? Simply put, it’s a local news organization distinguished by its public service mission and commitment to meeting the information needs of the community — in areas such as government, environment, education, social and criminal justice, or public health. CNOs are supported by a mix of commercial media tactics and sophisticated charitable fundraising.

The American Journalism Project will be funding revenue-generating capacity at CNOs.

In deciding on the criteria we will follow in building our first portfolio of grantees, we listened to our partners and news organizations across the field who have been working hard in this space over the last decade.

These criteria reflect our values and principles for how CNOs can operate effectively, transparently, and with the trust of their communities.

To be considered for a grant, a CNO must share a commitment to:

  1. Be mission-driven. Our goal is to catalyze the next generation of public-service media. Our grantees’ top priority must be their public-service mission.
  2. Offer a core product free to all. We believe the core product of public service journalism must be free to the public and abide by the highest standards of editorial independence.
  3. Do high-quality local news. Local to us means CNOs at the state, city, or regional level that both operate in and serve the information needs of those markets/communities.
  4. Have local financial backing. We expect organizations to show local philanthropic support or support from mission-aligned philanthropies, and will work arm-in-arm with grantees to further grow that support. Startup CNOs should have at least two years of funding in place or committed. American Journalism Project will not be a sole or majority funder.
  5. Practice financial transparency. Public trust is earned through transparency. American Journalism Project will require that CNOs disclose the sources of their funding, using a threshold of materiality.
  6. Look like the public we serve. Diversity, equity and inclusion are core American Journalism Project values and our grantees must demonstrate that they have built or are building a culture in which these values are reflected throughout their operations.
  7. Aspire to grow. Grantees must want to and be ready to significantly grow their revenue and programming in service to their mission.

What else?
As we prepare to invite grant proposals, we are focused on building a grantmaking process that is transparent and equitable.
To that end, we are also sharing a rubric to help organizations think about their readiness for growth, and their readiness to work with us. No CNO will be a ‘strong fit’ across the board, but should demonstrate overall strength when evaluating the big picture. We fully expect that there will be areas that need more work, and we’re excited to help in those areas. This rubric includes criteria such as ecosystem awareness, community leadership, organization leadership, financial controls and systems, and business plan and ambition. You can find the complete criteria on our website.

We are looking for passionate, driven, and capable social entrepreneurs and we expect to back a mix of established CNOs and startups with strong local support.

Our hope is that this will allow us to build a portfolio of CNO grantees that together help us make progress toward two long-term goals:

  • To increase the resources available to gather and report local news
  • To grow the number of CNOs that are demonstrating economically sustainable models

We are so excited for this journey alongside the amazing partners doing work in this space, the CNOs that exist, and the CNOs that will exist, thanks to the movement that is already taking place. We’re most excited for a future that has a revitalized local news ecosystem that is built in the ways that are conducive to meeting a public good. A venture philanthropy firm focused on local news has never been done before! We know we won’t get everything right and are deeply aware that the need is vast and is far more than we alone can address right now. How we assess ‘need’ may be different from certain expectations and opinions, and we’ll be learning as we go along.

When will the American Journalism Project make grants?

We will begin to invite proposals this June, and hope to make our first set of grants by the end of the year. Look at our criteria, and if you feel like you might be a good fit and would like to talk, please fill out the form on the bottom of that page. If you’ve looked at the criteria and feel like there’s an organization we should know about or be working with, please pass this along to them!

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