Digital Publishing
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New $20 million fund announced, to strengthen local US journalism

Local journalism in the United States is getting a $20 million boost, thanks to a new fund from the Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

The non-profits announced that they are teaming up, and each putting in $10 million towards a 5-year collaborative effort for this new national initiative— a Philadelphia-based local journalism accelerator—to strengthen local journalism for the digital age.

The new fund builds on past and current work from both organizations toward transforming local journalism.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is known for its investments in journalism and the arts, and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism has a strong track record of sustaining and advancing local journalism.

Knight and Lenfest have made several joint investments in support of local news, including a grant of more than $4 million to the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative.

The fund, according to a press release, will foster innovation in journalism, community engagement, technology and business models. A particular focus will be U.S. metropolitan areas, where news organizations face profound challenges.

An informed citizenry is essential for a well-functioning democracy.

“An informed citizenry is essential for a well-functioning democracy. Local news organizations ensure the people can determine their best interests. The Knight brothers believed that and so did Gerry Lenfest. We are thrilled to fund this collaboration, true to their fundamental beliefs,” said Alberto Ibargüen, President of the Knight Foundation.

The project will support new ways for local news organizations to build trust with their audiences and to increase revenue to achieve long-term business sustainability. The new fund will also support change-management training for news leaders who are navigating their organizations’ shift to digital platforms.

The journalism fund will be split between three main initiatives:

  • About $5 million will support journalism innovation in as many as 30 metro areas. The program is meant to expand on the work done under the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, a partnership that has brought resources and training into 12 newsrooms over the last three years.
  • Another $5 million will fund a “technology resource hub” to increase access to tools and expertise in data journalism, news analytics, audience engagement, product development, and revenue models.
  • The remaining $10 million will support journalism at Philadelphia Media Network and other news organizations in the city, including those that serve diverse communities.

“The idea is to significantly move the needle in one major market where news organizations are already changing and already working together effectively,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute.

The new fund is designed so that individuals, corporations and other foundations can contribute and participate. Future partners could be interested in backing local journalism in a specific community and use the fund as a mechanism to do so.

Expounding on the necessity for the fund at this time, the executive director of the Lenfest Institute stressed that local journalism was going through a period of crisis, and it was imperative that they step in.

Local journalism is in crisis … and it’s in crisis just when our democracy needs it most.

“Local journalism is in crisis — financial crisis and, to some degree, political crisis,” said Jim Friedlich. “And it’s in crisis just when our democracy needs it most. As the crisis has become more acute, the resolve of major funders like Knight and Lenfest has also increased.”

The Knight Foundation also announced that it is putting an additional $9 million toward arts and culture initiatives, including $5 million for a new Philadelphia Art and Technology Fund, and $4 million for citizen engagement.

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