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Foundations step up funding to bolster trust in local news 

A group of journalists brainstorming together.

The number of U.S. news organizations, specifically local news outlets, has been rapidly dwindling. The wave of layoffs following the Great Recession, compounded by the loss of print ad revenue, has made it harder for outlets to bounce back. The COVID-19 pandemic brought more challenges for the industry, as demand for local news grew but revenue and outlets shrank. In 2023, an average of 2.5 newspapers closed each week, up from two a week in 2022. Funders including the John S. and James L. Knight, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundations have recognized the importance of a vibrant local news ecosystem. As part of their democracy portfolios, they’re funding not only newsroom operations and training but also research and collaborations to bring diverse voices to the fore. 

Major foundations leading the charge 

In 2023, a coalition of partners led by the MacArthur and Knight Foundations launched a five-year, $500 million initiative to enhance local news reporting and bolster democracy and trust in American institutions. Among the funders for its first local chapter, Press Forward Chicago, were the Democracy Fund and the Chicago Community Trust, demonstrating the intersectional nature of local news funding. In Sacramento, California, the James B. McClatchy Foundation, established by the McClatchy newspaper chain’s publisher, wove several journalism initiatives, including the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, into its grantmaking strategy. A 2021 study by the foundation found local outlets struggling to secure new revenue streams. CEO Priscilla Enriquez has said that the collaborative’s goal is to protect “vulnerable communities already impacted by the rapid decline of independent news in the Central Valley, brought on by both monopolizing bottom-line ownership and the rise of news deserts.”  

Funding to end misinformation 

Alongside funding for news outlets, support for research and technology to end misinformation has become equally important and valuable to funders. A survey by the Knight Foundation and Gallup found that “emotional trust” in news organizations is meaningfully linked to whether people want to pay to receive news coverage and to their confidence in American democracy. The report found higher levels of trust in local news than in national news, but overall, the report found the lowest level on record of favorable opinions on media. The information vacuum left in the absence of local news is often filled with misinformation: A 2020 Columbia Journalism Review investigation found over 1,200 sites posing as local news that were politically backed sites designed to promote partisan talking points and collect user data.  

Other funding initiatives to combat misinformation include the Global Fact Check Fund at the Poynter Institute. In its first round of funding, announced in July 2023, it awarded grants to 35 organizations serving 45 countries to help fact-checking organizations scale or upgrade their online presence. The Knight Foundation also is funding—with Pew Research Center as well as Georgetown University—research partnerships focused on technology’s role in spreading and disseminating information, as well as trust in media and its relationship to technology. 

Centering representation in news reporting 

In two separate studies conducted by the Knight Foundation and Pew Research Center, before the calls for racial justice in 2020, Americans expressed a strong desire for news that more accurately represents them. Respondents mentioned a need for more diversity in the news industry on all fronts: racial, ethnic, political, class, etc. Funders like Borealis Philanthropy, the Institute for Nonprofit News, and Lilly Endowment are prioritizing funding newsrooms that support underrepresented communities and offer access to the news and information people need to navigate their specific geographies and social systems. To close the funding gap for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) newsrooms, Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism Fund has awarded over $5.2 million to 44 POC-led and -serving organizations. The Institute for Nonprofit News launched the, which centers rural voices and supports collaborative reporting. Lilly Endowment has awarded targeted funding of $4 million to the Religion News Service to support its editorial work and expand and diversify its audience.  

Philanthropy’s impact on local news thus far

Major funders are tailoring their grantmaking and enlisting partners to learn about the challenges local outlets face and fill funding gaps. Philanthropic support of local news is slowly starting to pay off: A 2023 Knight Foundation report about the organization’s programs in this area found that participating newsrooms saw increased revenue and audience engagement. In her speech at this year’s Knight Media Forum, foundation president and CEO Maribel Pérez Wadsworth highlighted that philanthropy is a tool among many to help news outlets become sustainable: “No matter how a news organization is structured, or who owns it, it requires multiple and diverse revenue streams to provide stability and allow for independence, and the trust that comes with it.” 

Photo credit: South_agency via Getty Images


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