Josh Stearns co-authored this piece with Teresa Gorman.
Local news is critical to a healthy democracy, and we believe that the future of local news is local. This simple idea has shaped the way Democracy Fund has thought about its work to support and strengthen the public square in America.
Today we are announcing two new locally-based and locally-driven funds — totaling more than $2 million — that will invest in ideas, people and organizations that are working to ensure people have access to the news and information they need in these communities. The funds will focus on building more vibrant news ecosystems as vital parts of just communities and a healthy democracy.
These funds are not focused on maintaining the status quo in local news, but on pushing forward changes that improve how journalism serves the public and makes news and information more resilient over the long term. Through these funds, we will work closely with local partners to increase giving to local news and invest in long-term solutions — over short-term fixes — especially in the areas of business models, collaboration and community engagement.
In New Jersey, we will build on our previous work in partnership with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Knight Foundation by establishing the New Jersey Local News Lab Fund with $1.3 million over two years. New Jersey has become a bold laboratory for new models of collaboration, revenue experiments, and community engagement (read more about previous work in New Jersey in this report). This new fund will continue that momentum and help broaden the work there beyond newsrooms to other civic information networks and institutions.
The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund is the start of a new multi-year commitment to the state. We are kicking off the fund with $700,000 for the first 18 months. The work we’ve done in New Jersey to strengthen their news ecosystem will inform our work, but we recognize that this new fund must be built to respond to the unique local context of North Carolina. To that end, we commissioned local journalist and community organizer Fiona Morgan to undertake a year-long research project on the strengths and challenges of local news and information in North Carolina.
The two funds, housed at the Community Foundation of New Jersey and North Carolina Community Foundation, will be managed by advisory groups made up of local stakeholders and Democracy Fund. As a national funder we recognize that we are guests in these communities and have set these funds up to ensure funding decisions are rooted in local knowledge and experience. We take seriously the advice from longtime philanthropy leader Pru Brown who wrote in a paper prepared for Democracy Fund, “ultimately, perhaps the most useful lens for place-based philanthropy is asking at every stage whether the decisions the national foundation is making and the way it is operating promote or undermine local ownership.”
A key goal of these funds is to catalyze new momentum locally around supporting local public-interest news that serves all communities. As such, both funds are built as open platforms for partnership with other funders and donors. We are working closely with local and regional foundations in each state to expand the size of the funds, leveraging even more dollars to support local news and information efforts. That work is ongoing, and we look forward to sharing more about the amazing partners we are working with in the coming weeks and months.
This work is just a piece of Democracy Fund’s broader work on local news, which includes the national NewsMatch campaign, revenue research, and shared services like Membership Puzzle Project and News Revenue Hub. Additionally, Democracy Fund supports bridge builders and network connectors in local regions who are on the frontlines of weaving together stronger news ecosystems through collaboration and capacity building.
We are thrilled and humbled by this work and by the people who are working with us. Democracy Fund is committed to working in deep partnership with local communities, to learning, and to operating transparently and openly. If you are interested in working with us reach out at LocalNewsLab@democracyfund.org and sign up for our weekly newsletter The Local Fix.