Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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Knight Foundation and GNI announce local journalism initiatives, “to reverse years of declining trust and revenues”

The Knight Foundation and Google News Initiative (GNI) continue to expand their efforts to boost local journalism. The Knight Foundation announced yesterday that it will be investing $300 million over the next five years to strengthen journalism by focusing on the future of local news and information.

“Rebuild a local news ecosystem”

Since 2007, Knight has spent about $30 million per year on journalism initiatives, with its current pledge, it has roughly doubled that amount. The foundation’s initial investments will be in scalable organizations that serve communities at the local level and need additional support.

According to the announcement, “These organizations are building new business models, strengthening investigative reporting, protecting press freedom, promoting news literacy, and connecting with audiences through civic engagement and technology.”

They include the American Journalism Project ($20 million), Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press ($10 million), Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund ($10 million) and ProPublica ($5 million) among several others.

Reliable news and information are essential for people to make democracy work. By investing in projects and people with bold ideas, Knight and others who care about journalism and democracy have the opportunity to reverse years of declining trust and revenues and help build a sustainable future for local news and information in the 21st century.

Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation, Vice president for Journalism

The largest single grant of $20 million will go to American Journalism Project, a venture philanthropy initiative that intends to provide grants and support to mission-driven local news nonprofits to ensure their long-term sustainability.

Knight will also be funding news literacy initiatives i.e., News Literacy Project ($5 million); expansion of solutions journalism, Solutions Journalism Network ($5 million); and community listening at the local level, Cortico ($2 million).

It has earmarked $35 million for 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.” Details about participants will be announced mid-year.

We’re not funding one-offs. We’re helping to rebuild a local news ecosystem, reliable and sustainable, and we’re doing it in a way that anyone who cares can participate.

Alberto Ibargüen, President, Knight Foundation

GNI, on the other hand, will be expanding its efforts to boost local journalism in Australia and New Zealand where it aims to provide 4,000 journalists and students with free digital training. The program will be managed by The Walkley Foundation which is dedicated to supporting Australian journalism through funding and other ongoing programs.

John Bergin, the Project Manager of the program said, “The training sessions will be focused on what works best for journalists and newsrooms. There will be a focus on the latest digital tools and practices, irrespective of who builds them and who provides them.

For journalists, there will be a focus on practical tools that you can use immediately. For publishers, there will be a learning programme that shows you how to open new digital revenue streams and optimize content for a digital audience.”

He added, “I’ll be reaching out to all the newsrooms in Australia and New Zealand, as well as universities. We’re conscious too that many journalists are working outside newsrooms so we’ll have offerings for freelance, regional and remote attendees as well.”

“Collaboration is key”

These announcements follow a recent wave of layoffs in several media organizations. Local news has been in decline for several years with several communities turning into news deserts.

According to a University of North Carolina study, The Expanding News Desert, released in October 2018, more than 1,300 communities across the U.S. have totally lost news coverage.

The stakes are high. Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished. In an age of fake news and divisive politics, the fate of communities across the country and of grassroots democracy itself is linked to the vitality of local journalism.

The Expanding News Desert

Facebook’s Head of Global News Partnerships, Campbell Brown, recently remarked, “A lasting business model is not a big tech company writing a check whenever it feels like it.” Although external funding may not be a lasting solution, the Google News Initiative team contends that “collaboration is key to our mutual success.”

Gone are the days when news organizations—or tech companies—can go it alone,” says GNI. “We’re committed to partnering with innovators to build a better future for news.”

“Rebuilding local news requires support from everyone,” says the Knight Foundation, stating that they are looking to collaborate with a host of foundations, funders, technologists, policymakers and others to take on this calling.

“Our investment is just a start; building the news infrastructure that will support democracy in the 21st century needs a lasting commitment from institutional funders and individuals passionate about the role local news plays in our democracy. We are inviting you to be a part of this resurgence.”