Over the past two decades, local news coverage has diminished across America, leading to lower civic engagement, voter turnout, and social cohesion. We’re partnering with leaders across the country to cultivate strong and vibrant news ecosystems so that everyone has access to local information they can rely on to participate in our democracy.
A Community Approach to the Future of Local News
Having news about where you live matters. Local stories strengthen our connection to a place and its people, promoting empathy that resists polarization. Those who follow local news are more likely to vote — and understand their choices at the ballot box. Local reporters hold government and corporations accountable, leading to less waste and corruption. What’s more, local publications are often the first to break news of national urgency and historic importance because of their trust and relationships in their communities.
But due to economic and social shifts over the past two decades, many American communities have lost their hometown outlets. In places where there was once a thriving news industry, dominated by big newspapers and television stations, people now have significantly fewer trustworthy sources of information about what’s happening in their own backyards.
Journalists and residents across the country are working to rebuild local reporting and provide their communities the news and information they need. We see greater focus on developing news ecosystems that comprise local newsrooms, libraries, universities, government agencies, and other information sources working together to serve the public. Healthy news ecosystems are diverse, sustainable, interconnected, and deeply engaged with their communities.
Our Ecosystem News strategy helps foster and support healthy local news and information ecosystems through efforts that:
- Promote community-driven models that are authentic to local strengths and contexts
- Support research on promising practices and create learning groups of local news leaders
- Invest in innovative efforts to build sustainable business models for local news
- Support organizations that build strong networks and relationships for sharing best practices
- Invest in joint philanthropic funds that build the sustainability of local news ecosystems
- Provide advice and tools for philanthropy on how to invest in journalism and local news
This work intends to transform local journalism to make it more resilient to survive changing times, and more responsive to community needs. To do so, it calls for new models and new relationships between journalists, newsrooms, and communities.
What We Fund
We work with local partners — journalists, ecosystem builders, and funders — to understand the needs of their area through the lens of their local expertise. To date, we have invested with partners in the following regions:
In the Chicago ecosystem, we fund a grassroots alliance of independent community media; a funder collaborative supporting local journalists of color; and a transformative local news organization that equips Chicagoans with tools to eliminate information inequity.
We fund the Colorado Media Project, which pools local and national funding, to ask hard questions to address inequities in its journalism, and to support the transformation of the state’s ecosystem, including launching a network hub for local news organizations, Colorado News Collaborative.
We fund a network hub for New Jersey’s local news outlets that also serves as a national center with expertise on collaborative journalism, and a joint fund that supports the ecosystem, including the operations of the first-in-the country publicly funded New Jersey Civic Information Consortium.
- Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University
- New Jersey Civic Information Consortium
- New Jersey Local News Lab Fund
We fund the New Mexico Local News Fund in collaboration with the Thornburg Foundation, which brings together funding, research, and experts to support the transformation of the state’s local news ecosystem and serve as a backbone connecting the state’s news outlets in collaborative efforts.
We fund the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, which brings together local and national funders and advocates who care about how community information needs are met across the state, to strategically deploy funding that serves local needs, including launching a backbone hub organization, NC Local News Workshop, to serve the ecosystem.
We fund the Oklahoma Media Center in partnership with the Inasmuch Foundation. This early-stage center draws in journalists who care about improving the coverage of the region and want to collaborate on reporting that addresses local residents’ needs.
We also support national organizations that catalyze local news transformation in communities across the country like the Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Publishers, OpenNews, and PressOn (see our grants database for the full list of Public Square grantees).
Beyond our funding we also work with partners in regions across the country who are strengthening local news ecosystems, including California, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, Georgia and more. This ecosystem approach is increasingly seen as a critical strategy for rebuilding and reimagining local news across the country.
To stay up-to-date with our partners’ work across the country, subscribe to our Local Fix newsletter. We love to have conversations and encourage you to reach out to Teresa Gorman, senior program associate, Public Square program at tgorman [@] democracyfund.org if you have questions or would like to connect (Note: we do not accept unsolicited grant proposals).
Are you a funder interested in investing in local journalism? We’d recommend checking out our Guide to Assessing Your Local News Ecosystem, and considering getting involved with joint fundraising efforts like NewsMatch, Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, or local funding coalitions like the Colorado Media Project. To chat about options and ideas, please reach out to Teresa Gorman.
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.
Democracy Fund collaborates with donors and peer foundations on strategic investments to strengthen local news and information efforts. NewsMatch is a national matching fund campaign that drives dollars and offers sustainability coaching to support local reporting, cultivate the long-term sustainability of nonprofit news, and deepen relationships between newsrooms and communities. Regional local news funds are being created around the country to unite place-based and national funders in support of innovative, locally led approaches to meeting community information needs.
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.
Public Square strategies support trustworthy local news, press freedom, community engagement in news, investigative journalism, and digital media that advance democracy, not hate.
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