February 19, 2019

On Tuesday, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $300 million commitment toward rebuilding local news ecosystems during the next five years, with details on where the first $100 million of that money would go.

“We’ve all been on the ropes for the past 15 years as news organizations are battered by declining revenue and declining trust,” said Andrew Sherry, Knight’s vice president of communications. “We and other foundations and news organizations have tried a lot of different things.”

What Knight sees now, he said, are both the greatest need to help local news and the greatest opportunity with strong, scalable organizations that can best transform the landscape.

(Disclosure: My coverage of local news is funded in part by Knight, and Poynter is a partner with the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, also known as Table Stakes.)

Since 2007, Knight has spent about $30 million a year on journalism initiatives. They’re now ramping that up, Sherry said.

Today’s announcement and the direction Knight’s heading was hinted at in an end-of-year Nieman Lab prediction by the Knight team entitled “A year of local collaboration.” The prediction noted many of the organizations getting funds today and the themes their work includes: local news ecosystems, national-local partnerships, multidisciplinary partnerships and collaboration among media funders.

“In 2019, we’ll see an increase in multidisciplinary collaboration among sectors, institutions, and news organizations working to better serve local audiences.”

Organizations aimed at strengthening and rebuilding local news are getting some of those funds. They are:

Knight is also putting money toward news literacy initiatives ($5 million for the News Literacy Project); the expansion of solutions journalism ($5 million for the Solutions Journalism Network) and community listening at the local level ($2 million for Cortico.) It’s investing $35 million into researching and research centers that “will study the changing nature of an informed society in America and will help build an emerging field of study to address pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the digital age,” according to the press release. Universities participating in that project will be announced mid-year, Sherry said.

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In January, Facebook announced $300 million over three years toward stabilizing local news. Partners include Report for America, the American Journalism Project and Table Stakes.

The Knight funding should be a boost to help programs working to rebuild local news scale, Sherry said, and a signal to individuals and foundations of where to contribute money to help local news.

Knight is concerned about declines in trust for media and other democratic institutions, he said, “but we think that local news is actually the best place to start rebuilding it.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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