Accelerating Local News Ecosystems Through Press Forward

February 21, 2024

Today Press Forward, the national movement investing more than $500 million to strengthen communities and local news, announced a new cohort of 11 Press Forward Locals. The new chapters are in Colorado, Lancaster, Pa., Lexington, Ky., Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, South Florida, and Wyoming. Combined with existing chapters in Alaska, Chicago, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Springfield, Ill. and Wichita, the total number of Press Forward Locals is now 17.

These local chapters are helping build a vital new infrastructure for independent media across America. They’re uniquely positioned to listen to the field, identify approaches that meet the needs of their communities, and rally support for a shared local vision.

Democracy Fund is proud to partner with dozens of Press Forward funders to support this growing local leadership, which builds upon years of learnings from Democracy Fund’s Equitable Journalism strategy. Six of the Press Forward Locals are existing Democracy Fund local news ecosystem grantees and partners, and we’re thrilled to see them joining the Press Forward movement.

Democracy Fund has long believed that transforming local news must begin with local communities. Since 2016, Democracy Fund has invested more than $15 million in 10 geographic areas across the U.S. to support vibrant ecosystems that reimagine news and information as civic infrastructure. Now through Press Forward more funders are able to join the effort to acknowledge, celebrate, and resource incredible leaders and innovators on the ground who are building a brighter future for local news.

The local funders who lead Press Forward Local chapters are committed to deep listening, bringing more funders to the table, and sharing what they learn. Local news ecosystems are not one-size-fits-all — what works in New Mexico is different from what works in Wyoming. But all ecosystems are rooted in coalitions of diverse stakeholders across a region, working together to support authentically local solutions.

Why Democracy Fund is committed to an ecosystem funding approach

An ecosystem approach to local news funding aims to create equitable local journalism for all, rather than replicate old systems of journalism that did not serve all communities. An evaluation of Democracy Funds’s ecosystem investments has shown that this local news ecosystem approach can drive significant impact by:

  • Increasing access to local news and civic information for local people,
  • Addressing shared challenges across local media,
  • Sparking reporting collaborations that serve community needs,
  • Bringing millions of new dollars from local funders to support local news, and
  • Resulting in more equitable grantmaking to publishers of color.

We have seen notable success in the funding efforts we have undertaken with our partners. In North Carolina, funders have moved nearly $8 million in direct and aligned funding to over 50 organizations across the state, with 75 percent of direct grantees being led by Black, Indigenous, Latino or other people of color. In New Jersey a public/private partnership is leveraging state funding alongside philanthropic funding to award more than $5 million in grants to 52 organizations, half of which are led by people of color. In Colorado, funders have utilized national resources and models for local use, like creating a statewide NewsMatch campaign called #newsCONeeds that has raised over $2.3M for Coloradan nonprofit and for profit newsrooms.

Through this work, we have learned the importance of patience, humility, and a deep commitment to building lasting relationships in places. We know that the change we want to see in the world will take time. We remain committed to our vision of a future where local news ecosystems move resources to news organizations led by and serving people of color, equip residents for civic action, and build communities of belonging that strengthen an inclusive, multi-racial democracy.

Today’s announcement of new Press Forward local chapters, and the chance for those chapters to apply for funding, is a significant step in Press Forward’s work to be a good partner to local communities. Democracy Fund will continue to support and expand our work in local news ecosystems both through our own investments and through Press Forward, and look forward to learning in partnership with those leading this work.

For more information about Local News Ecosystem Funding, check out these resources:

Democracy Fund
1200 17th Street NW Suite 300,
Washington, DC 20036