The MacArthur Foundation is leading a coalition of 22 donors from various national levels and fields that have come together to establish a $500 Million fund for the revitalisation of local news.
The fund was announced through the establishment of Press Forward, an initiative to support and strengthen local news and information.
According to the announcement made by the MacArthur Foundation, Press Forward is interested in community-focused approaches to journalism that prioritise alternative ways of telling critical stories.
The support from the coalition, beyond the financial assistance, will include legal support and membership programmes. Its overall objectives are summarised into four focus areas: strengthening local newsrooms, accelerating enabling environment for news production and dissemination, closing inequalities in journalism coverage and practice, and advancing public policies that expand access to local news and civic information.
Like the coalition notes, the past few years have seen the shutdown or scale-down of numerous media organisations all around the world. A report from Northwestern University’s journalism school published last year estimates that up to 360 media organisations had been shut down from just before the pandemic and June 2022.
This continuous depletion of independent media has raised concerns from many in and beyond the industry, especially on what it means for democracy, accountability, and civic engagement. Some existing media organisations have responded to the tough survival conditions by announcing significant layoffs, building subscription-based models as a means to generate revenue for self-reliance, and overhauling internal operations to better suit the prevailing times.
Press Forward says it will be centring community and people-centred approaches to journalism while ensuring sustenance for them.
Some of the initial partners include the Archwell Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, Democracy Fund, Ford Foundation, Mary W. Graham, Glen Nelson Centre at American Public Media Group, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The coalition believes the decline and shutdown of media institutions across the US and the growing distrust in institutions create a serious and negative coincidence that needs to be reversed. The announcement notes that since 2005, more than 2,000 local newspapers have closed, “resulting in 20 per cent of Americans living in ‘news deserts’ with little to no reliable coverage of important local news.”
Press Forward’s approach is designed to address some of the responses from media organisations during tough times, such as by supporting them to enhance existing efforts and rejuvenate dying ones.
“We have a moment to support the reimagination, revitalisation, and rapid development of local news. We are prepared to support the strongest ideas and seed new ones; build powerful networks; and invest in people, organisations, and networks with substantial resources,” said John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation.
Grantmaking will begin in 2024, according to the coalition.
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