September 24, 2015

The Online News Association’s local chapters will get the chance to spread and grow thanks to an $800,000 investment from the The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. ONA announced the news on Thursday at ONA’s annual conference.

“Knight and ONA both strongly believe that local journalists and the connections they make can have a huge impact on improving coverage in communities,” said Jane McDonnell, ONA’s executive director, in an email to Poynter. “The grant will allow us to hire a community engagement expert to do a vital data crunch on the needs out there, and then seed and launch new groups where they’re needed and strengthen current ones. We also see targeted partnership opportunities for the startups stepping into news deserts to cover their communities in new ways that take full advantage of technology, data and social and viral media.”

ONA started forming local chapters in 2008. There are currently 50 chapters around the country. The money from Knight will include hiring a community manager and starting at least 20 news local chapters.

There’s still healthy competition among journalists from different organizations, McDonnell said, “but the digital transformation has broken down a lot of the old walls. Journalists are nowhere near as insular a group — and that’s a very good thing. We talk ‘social’ and ‘engagement’ all the time. There’s no better way to get to know your community than to open up the doors and invite them in.”

“Today, journalists recognize that they have to collaborate and share what they are learning to advance the practice of journalism,” said Jennifer Preston, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for journalism. “That is what we have seen unfold in ONA meetups around the country. Most journalists see the value of learning from each other, and learning from technologists, to develop new tools and practices that are required to keep up to date in the digital age.”

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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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