Philanthropic Funding For Local Journalism Is On The Rise, Study Says

Local journalism is gaining philanthropic support from a variety of funders, including some that are new to the news arena, according to Sustaining Philanthropy for Journalism, a paper from the Local Media Associations's LMA Advanced Fundraising Lab.

The big investors include groups like the American Journalism Project, the National Trust for Local News and the newly established Press Forward, a network of funders who expect to contribute up to $1 billion over the next five years. 

Funding is increasingly going not only to nonprofit news organizations but to for-profit newsrooms that provide civic journalism, the report notes.  

For instance, the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding says it has trained more than 100 newsrooms, mostly for-profit, and that these entities have raised an aggregate of more than $22 million to fund local journalism. 

Press Forward is focusing on four areas (and we quote): 

  • Supporting local newsrooms that have the trust of communities. 
  • Growing the infrastructure of local news by supporting efforts to help publishers with scalable technology and shared services. 
  • Supporting diverse newsrooms in underserved communities and news deserts. 
  • Exploring public policy options to expand access to local news. 



What do these funders want?

“In a word: Impact,” the study notes. 

Philanthropic groups seek to back the following forms of journalism (obviously, most select more than one):

  • Topic-specific journalism—74%
  • Local journalism—71%
  • Community engagement, investigative stories, and news org sustainability—50%

In addition, 60% support news outlets serving communities of color. Of those, 70% say their funding has increased. And 80% consider the diversity of organizations prior to making a grant.

However, some critics question the philanthropic agenda, and it isn't clear that small newsrooms are getting their fair share of this largesse. 

“Big philanthropy isn’t interested in bending over to engage in direct-giving with the poor sops who are actually producing and delivering news,” writes Alice Dreger in, the site of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. 

Rather, most recipients will be “‘supported with widgets, apps, and bots,” Dreger continues. “It’s no coincidence the metaphor being used for survival is “cracking the code,” as if we’re going to code our way out of this mess.”

LMA Lab describes a donor funnel that starts at the top with small donors, broadening out to large individual donors, including local community foundations, then expanding to topical grantmakers, national grantmakers and national foundations. 

But the study advises newsrooms seeking support not to start at the “bottom” of the funnel.

"It’s often tempting for a newsroom that is new to philanthropy to want to go directly to one of the national funders known for supporting journalism, like Knight Foundation or MacArthur Foundation,” it says. 

“Yet these national funders, when asked, consistently say that one of the first things they look for before considering a local request for funding is: Who do you already have supporting you in your own community?” 

The LMA Lab urges newsrooms to follow these best practices when seeking philanthropy:

  • Identify essential community needs.
  • Develop a plan for a journalistic response to address that need.
  • Prepare a proposal that includes: the problem to be solved, the community affected, the journalistic response, the resources needed, expected impacts, and examples of past reporting that drove community impact.


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