Public Square

Transforming Media to Better Serve People

No matter where they live or who they are, Americans should be able to get the news and information they need to engage in civic life, and to use their voices without fear of being harassed or silenced. The rapidly changing media landscape presents new challenges and opportunities for our democracy.

Present and Accountable

As the media landscape shifts, we envision a future where every American is able to participate in a vibrant, diverse public square. People need relevant and trustworthy information to engage in democracy. We rely on news and public spaces to inform ourselves, exchange ideas and debate, hold power to account, and organize for change. Historically the news media has helped propel critical reforms — but it has also pandered to the powerful, it has marginalized women and people of color, and it has failed to truly serve all communities. 

The media landscape of today is in flux as sweeping technological, economic, and cultural forces take effect. This presents extraordinary challenges and new opportunities. The internet has expanded our options for creating and consuming media, while also amplifying misinformation and hate. Legacy outlets and their advertising-based business models are in decline, creating major challenges for communities where coverage and vigorous conversation once flourished.

In response to these realities, promising new experiments are redefining the public square in ways that make it more digital, participatory, and inclusive. Our Public Square program supports these experiments and the long-term sustainability of journalism that is critical to our democracy.

We collaborate with peer funders and communities interested in creating, adapting, and sustaining new media models that prioritize the public interest.

Strategic Focus

Public Square strategies support trustworthy local news, press freedom, community engagement in news, investigative journalism, and digital media that advance democracy, not hate.

News Ecosystems Connect and Strengthen Communities

Trusted and responsible local news and information increases civic engagement, community cohesion, and government accountability — but over the past two decades, many American communities have lost their hometown newspapers and stations. The Ecosystem News strategy aims to transform local news so everyone has access to information they need to participate in our democracy and live a healthy life.

Learn about the future of local news

Engaged Journalism Puts People First

Americans need news that fully reflects their communities and responds to their interests to help them participate meaningfully in democracy, exercise their rights, and inform daily living. Our Engaged Journalism strategy aims to make journalism more inclusive, responsive, and relevant to all Americans.

See innovations and practices we support

Digital Democracy Requires Accountability

With the rise of social media platforms, online spaces have a growing influence on American life. But left unchecked, these sites can distort reality, channel discrimination, and undermine elections. Our Digital Democracy strategy seeks to shift the dynamics of online platforms to support civic participation and safeguard civil rights.

See where we’re investing and exploring

Press Freedom Serves All Americans

Americans count on a free press to provide answers and reveal truths that those in power would rather obscure. The Press Freedom strategy works to ensure that journalists of all kinds are free to pursue facts of public interest and tell the whole story — and that newsrooms are equipped to defend against attacks and restrictions on reporting.

Learn about the legal support local newsrooms need
Special Project

Investigative Journalism Holds Power to Account

Investigative journalism provides a check and balance on the powerful by shining a spotlight on corruption, conflicts of interest, and decisions that endanger the public. This special project supports the time, deep investment, and protection that this kind of journalism requires.

See ways to strengthen investigative reporting

Learn about the underlying system

Understanding the role of local news and public engagement requires a systems-thinking lens that takes into consideration not only the strength of individual news outlets, but also the influence of the local economy, demographics, technological infrastructure, and the policy environment — as well as the agency of citizens to find, interpret, and share the information needed for civic involvement. Mapping the dynamics around local news and participation brings new understanding to all who want to support active citizens and vibrant media as vital elements in a healthy democracy.

Catalyzing Local Lessons

The Local News Lab, a project of Democracy Fund, is a catalyst for connection and exchange among local news ecosystem builders to help strengthen the role local news and information plays within communities in our democracy. The site provides funders and journalism advocates with case studies of new ideas in local reporting, community engagement, business models, research, and more. It also houses the archive for the weekly Local Fix newsletter.

Shape the Future of Media

Democracy Fund collaborates with donors and peer foundations on a set of strategic investments that are strengthening the quality and availability of journalism across the U.S. Each addresses an area of need that is significant in its scope and importance — and where collective insights and investments are imperative. These challenges are large and interconnected. No single individual or organization can or should do this work alone.

Explore journalism joint fund opportunities

Making Nonprofit News Sustainable

NewsMatch is a national matching funds campaign that drives dollars to support local and investigative reporting, build the long-term sustainability of nonprofit news, and raise awareness about journalism’s role in America. Since 2016, NewsMatch has helped nonprofit news organizations raise nearly $100 million in unrestricted funding, which they invest in more and better journalism, crucial operations, and improved fundraising capabilities. NewsMatch pairs matching funds with 500+ hours of training and capacity building that equips journalists with the skills they need to build sustainable, long-term relationships with the communities they serve.

Learn more about this effort

Democracy Fund Editorial Firewall Policy

We adhere to a strict policy preserving the editorial independence of all our journalism grantees. In the instance of a grantee approaching a member of our staff for comment, we require them to go through our communications team — not a program officer — and we alert the reporter of the funding relationship. We also request that if they quote a member of our team they disclose our funding of their organization in any story produced.

In addition, the Democracy Fund communications staff does not send pitches to the nonprofit newsrooms we support, and we include language in our grant agreements that we won’t discuss editorial content with journalism grantees or otherwise seek to influence their coverage. However, we may alert newsroom leadership of Democracy Fund developments and news in the course of regular engagement with grantees.

Other Areas of Focus

Democracy Fund strengthens and defends democracy through three core programs and a number of term-limited special projects.

See more of what we do

Free and Fair Elections

Voting is the single most significant way Americans exercise our political power. Every eligible citizen should have an equal opportunity to participate in elections that are free and fair, as well as efficient and secure. Implementing accessible and trustworthy elections is an immense undertaking, but the American election system is also challenged by persistent barriers to voting for historically excluded communities and beset by unprecedented new threats. Our Elections program works toward a strong and modern voting system that increases voter confidence and engagement.

Learn more about this work
Special Project

Effective, Representative, and Accountable Governance

American democracy depends on a government that represents the interests of the people in all of our diversity — one that is prepared to act on our behalf and that is held accountable when it does not. However, extreme polarization limits our ability to achieve shared priorities. Partisan politics and significant institutional decline have led to government dysfunction and gridlock. Our Governance program promotes the principled leadership and strong institutions our governing system needs to act in the interests of the American people.

Learn more about this work
Special Project

Just and Inclusive Society

Just and Inclusive Society is a special project that brings diverse organizations and groups together to work for a common good, create safe and secure communities, decrease polarization, develop a sense of shared identity, and defend Constitutional norms under attack.

Learn more about this work