November 3, 2023

On Friday, Press Forward, the initiative to bring half a billion dollars into local news over the next five years, announced a new network of local chapters in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas and Philadelphia.

In September, 22 donors announced the launch of Press Forward with the goal of strengthening “communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years,” according to a press release.

The initiative is a big swing at fixing the continuing contraction of local news. Friday’s announcement doubles the potential investment in the critical and struggling industry.

“Our goal is to raise the next $500 million at the local level,” said John Palfrey, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, in Friday’s press release. “For local news to be sustainable over the long term, communities will need to stand up and support their local news providers. We will need to invest in local news the same way that we invest in arts and culture, hospitals, or our alma maters. We are building a movement.”

Palfrey also wrote about that goal, and why it matters, on Thursday for The Atlantic.

“Democracy in America is in crisis. The dramatic decline of local news is a major part of this crisis, and there are great ideas and organizations to fund, across all 50 states, to address it,” he wrote. “These models include public media operations, nonprofit media start-ups, and for-profit companies. They include television, radio, and digital-only outlets as well as intriguing combinations of all three. They are led by a more racially and gender-diverse set of editors, reporters, and businesspeople. They are worthy of our support as they grow, stabilize, and develop sustainable models with a range of revenue streams.”

As part of its announcement, Press Forward identified three types of local ecosystems:

  • Nascent: “Too many Americans live in news deserts, in communities at risk of becoming news deserts, or in places where existing news sources are struggling to meet the information needs of audiences. In some of these places, a donor or group of donors are coming together to support local news and information for the first time.” Local chapters in this category include Press Forward Alaska, Press Forward Springfield (Illinois) and Press Forward Minnesota.
  • Expanding: “A number of communities have dynamic and diverse local news outlets, thanks in part to entrepreneurial news leaders, a decade of national programs aimed at strengthening local news, and local news champions, oftentimes the local community foundation. But underneath the impactful reporting and awards, many local newsrooms remain undercapitalized, the ecosystem as a whole requires reinforcement, and the donor community needs to be expanded to support the growing ecosystem.” Chapters in this category include Press Forward Chicago and Press Forward Wichita. Press Forward Minnesota will also use this approach.
  • Flourishing: “In some cities and states, visionary funder collaboratives have created flourishing news ecosystems that provide a roadmap for others to follow. These ecosystems have learned hard lessons along the way and have adapted over the past decade to serve the news and information needs of their communities.” Press Forward Philadelphia falls into this category.

You can express interest in forming a local chapter at the bottom of the announcement. 

Since Press Forward was announced, journalism groups including the Asian American Journalists Association and the Maynard Institute published an open letter calling for the “equitable distribution of resources to underrepresented voices in local news.”

“Significant investment in the people, publications, and organizations that serve an increasingly diverse society must be made with clear-eyed intention,” the letter read. “We commend the support many of the foundations that are part of this initiative have contributed to news ecosystems. We stand ready to help this effort any way we can; we are watching it with enthusiasm, with vigilance and concern.”

The Pivot Fund, a venture philanthropy organization aimed at investing in BIPOC-led community newsrooms, is collecting answers from those who want to weigh in on how and where that money should go.

Press Forward’s announcement noted that the initiative’s national donors will announce the first round of grantmaking in December and grantmaking guidelines early next year.

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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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