Report for America has released a new report that identifies a major new trend – the creation of “Community News Funds” – and outlines how the new funds can be created.
The new strategy involves community foundations working in conjunction with local news leaders in creating a single, permanent fund that draws upon donations from multiple sources, to support local news for years to come.
The report offers several case studies—from urban to rural areas—that reflect how community news funds are already making a difference at a time when many newsrooms are struggling financially. Seven of the communities have raised $15 million over three years with variations of this model.
“In the best communities in this report, there exists a single fund targeted to a single news focus, with more funders contributing for more years,” said Todd Franko, Report for America’s director of local sustainability and development. “That is a game-changer for the sustainability of local news.”
Report for America’s local sustainability team interviewed more than 30 philanthropic and newsroom leaders to develop its findings. They looked at dynamic actions in Traverse City, Mich., Lancaster, Pa., Fresno, Calif., Lexington, Ky., Seattle and statewide efforts in Pennsylvania and California. Other communities in the report are New Haven, Conn., Rappahannock, Va., and Fauquier County, Va.
To be successful, community news funds should:
- Encompass multiple funders of varied giving levels
- Pursue multi-year contributions with a fund goal of 6- and 7-figures depending on the community size
- Demonstrate and articulate that the community (not merely the newsroom) is the beneficiary of improved local news
- Direct funding support to more than one newsroom, where feasible, to better serve an entire community
- Create a steering committee of civic leaders that eventually grows to become a board of governance for fund expansions and dispersals
- Ensure with local news partners that the community benefits from a wide range of types of reporting (investigative, hyperlocal, features, etc.) and targets of coverage (ie., health, education, environment, criminal justice, economic development).
While the report looks at best practices, it does highlight some challenges to consider. Many foundations have bylaws or practices that direct their funds exclusively to nonprofits and avoid for-profit entities. In some communities, where for-profit news organizations are the only providers of local news, funders will need to become more flexible, allowing for a greater diversity of business models.
Newsrooms, meanwhile, should expect funders to hold them to certain standards of quality and impact, while still maintaining complete editorial independence between funders and news decision making. For-profit newsrooms will eventually need to create a development staff position to partner with community philanthropy leaders.
Though this will be a shift in strategy, Report for America believes community news funds are the best path forward for communities that are in danger of losing their local news coverage.
“We can no longer view journalism as largely the responsibility of the commercial media, or a short-term problem that can be solved with temporary grants,” Franko said. “We need to see it as an important civic function, worthy of ongoing philanthropic support, akin to a hospital, a library or a school.”
The “Community News Funds” report was made possible with support from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Meta Journalism Project.
Report for America looks to host several information sessions in the near future. A full copy of the report can be found here.
About Report for America
Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities. Launched in 2017, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that provides people with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and rebuild trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.