Local news on the rise: AJPalooza 2023
This month, we celebrated the rise of local nonprofit news at AJPalooza, the American Journalism Project’s annual gathering. For three days, AJP’s grantee partners, supporters, board members and staff gathered in Cleveland to explore new, sustainable approaches to solving the country’s local news and information crisis. We left AJPalooza 2023 feeling hopeful and excited for the future of local news. Here are some highlights from this year’s convening:
Celebrating the success of our grantees
To kick off AJPalooza 2023, leaders of our 37 grantee organizations shared about their recent wins. From expanding their newsrooms to producing reporting that has impact in communities and holds public officials accountable, we’re heartened to see the work these news organizations are doing — and we look forward to the journey ahead. Click here to see our full portfolio of grantees.
The state of our portfolio
Together, we took a high-level look at our organizational impact. Michael Ouimette, AJP’s chief investment officer, shared an overview of the growth of our portfolio, which operates in 30 states and Puerto Rico. Our grantees had an incredible year of growth last year, growing revenue by 30 percent through a variety of revenue streams including membership, where our portfolio attracted a combined 6,000 new paying members to support their work. The first cohort of grantees saw a 66 percent increase in their budgets to produce local news. Leaders from Sahan Journal, Block Club Chicago and Cityside followed this conversation with an in-depth perspective on the ways they’re building effective revenue streams.
Championing local news across America
Throughout the convening, AJP grantees, local philanthropists and community partners shared what’s working well in their efforts to rebuild local news. Evan Smith, senior advisor to the Texas Tribune and Emerson Collective, led a conversation with the Cleveland Foundation’s Dale Anglin and Lumina Foundation’s Kevin Corcoran; both shared insights and lessons they’ve learned as their philanthropies support the rebuilding of local news. AJPalooza attendees also came together for roundtable discussions, facilitated by AJP board member Irving Washington, on ways to champion local news in communities.
Local news on the rise in Cleveland
AJPalooza 2023 convened in Cleveland — a city with a burgeoning new nonprofit news landscape being led by AJP grantees Signal Cleveland, The Marshall Project and Open Campus. Together, these newsrooms are filling a gap in reporting left by a decline in local news, and are creating forward-thinking journalism that serves Cleveland’s many diverse communities.
Documenters: putting community building into practice
Lila Mills, editor-in-chief of Signal Cleveland, led a conversation with three Cleveland Documenters – everyday residents building trust and advancing democracy in the community. Documenters, a program created by AJP grantee City Bureau, trains residents in communities to attend and annotate government meetings. To date, Signal Cleveland has trained nearly 600 Documenters representing every zip code in the city, and their work is used as an important resource by Signal’s reporters. Learn more about the Cleveland Documenters.
Visiting the Cleveland community
At its heart, local journalism is about getting to know 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 chose from three different community trips organized by our partners in Cleveland, including a “reverse ridealong” to understand community engagement in two Cleveland east side neighborhoods; a tour of historic buildings in Cleveland’s Hingetown district; and an exploration of Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood, one of Ohio’s densest Latino communities.
The promise of Cleveland’s local news scene
We concluded the main portion of AJPalooza with a dinner with event attendees, members of the Cleveland community and local philanthropists, including leaders from the Cleveland Foundation. The evening centered around a panel on the rise of local news in Cleveland; PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff set the stage with a look at how a decline in local news is affecting Americans throughout the country; she then moderated a conversation with Lila Mills, editor-in-chief of Signal Cleveland, and Susan Chira, editor-in-chief of the Marshall Project. Together, they discussed the important journalism they’re creating in Cleveland and the impact they hope it will have in the city. It was powerful to see Cleveland community members come together to celebrate and strengthen local news.
Taking our learnings forward
On our final day of AJPalooza, AJP grantees and staff had collaborative, workshop-style discussions on strategies and tactics to build strong, sustainable revenue streams. Leaders from our first grantee cohort, which received their initial support in 2019, also shared the things they’ve learned about leading and operating nonprofit local news organizations through years of growth.
We’re grateful for this time together, the progress that was made, and we left feeling inspired and optimistic for the future of local news.
All photos by Matt Shiffler (unless noted otherwise).