Knight Foundation to Aid Journalism 02/19 06:55
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Knight Foundation says it will invest $300 million in
local journalism over the next five years, seeding several programs designed to
kick-start an industry decimated by layoffs and newspaper closures over the
last 15 years.
The plans, announced Tuesday, will double the amount of spending the
foundation started by newspaper publisher brothers John S. and James L. Knight
has been making in this area over the past few years.
Among the beneficiaries are the American Journalism Project, which provides
grants to local nonprofit news organizations; the investigative site
ProPublica; Report for America, a service organization that pays for the hiring
of local journalists; and PBS' "Frontline," the documentary program that's
making its first foray into local news.
"What this initiative aims to do is really help build a future for local
news," said Jennifer Preston, vice president for journalism at the Knight
A spate of philanthropic efforts, including a $300 million initiative
announced by Facebook last month, has drawn attention to how declining profits
and readership has bled local journalism. Nearly 1,800 weekly and daily
newspapers have closed since 2004, and the number of working journalists has
been cut in half during that period, according to a University of North
Until 2005, Knight had focused much of its journalism philanthropy on
education. But it began focusing on helping news organizations weather the
technological changes to the industry and, since 2015, has funded more local
projects. They include supporting an effort by 17 news organizations in the
Philadelphia area for a report on the impact of mass incarceration.
Preston said Knight hoped its commitment would spur other funding sources to
join in support of local news.
While PBS' "Frontline" primarily reports on national and international
topics, it frequently works with local journalists to bolster its understanding
of issues, said Raney Aronson-Rath, the show's executive producer. She cited
the work of New Orleans-based reporters for a story about the aftermath of
With what is happening in the industry, it's getting harder to find those
knowledgeable journalists, she said.
With a $3 million grant from Knight, "Frontline" will hire an editor and
reporters in up to five communities to work specifically on agreed-upon topics
like housing, education, law enforcement and access to voting. Some of the work
may result in a "Frontline" story, but the primary purpose is local reporting
on those issues that will appear within the affected communities, she said.
Many believe that a breakdown in trust about journalism, for all the time
that it is fanned by national politicians, begins at the local level when
people realize what they are missing by not having reporters seeking out news
and holding officials accountable.
"This is a democracy problem," Aronson-Rath said.
The American Journalism Project, which is getting $20 million from Knight,
is a venture philanthropy firm started by the founders of two successful news
sites, the Texas Tribune and Chalkbeat. Their idea is to raise money to start
as many similar local journalism projects as they can.
Knight has also supported the Documenters Program, started by the City
Bureau in Chicago, where citizens are trained by journalists and dispatched to
cover local government meetings. The project is expanding to other cities.
That effort, however, illustrates the challenges faced by philanthropists.
Funding specific investigative projects has its worth, but the impact of
cutbacks is seen --- or, more accurately, not seen --- in the thousands of
state, city and town government organizations whose meetings are no longer
attended by reporters on a regular basis.
Recovering what has been lost by the thousands of journalists no longer on
the beat requires fundamental changes in the business of local journalism.
Preston said Knight recognizes this and is funding efforts designed to develop
more sustainable business models.
"We are at a critical juncture at this moment in time to make these
investments at a local level to help rebuild trust in journalism, one community
at a time," she said.