Knight Foundation pledges $300 million to rebuild a local journalism ecosystem

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The Knight Foundation — an American foundation whose main aim is to foster high-quality journalism — announced that, over the next five years, it will invest $ 300 million to support the future of local news and information.

“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,” said Alberto Ibargüen, the Knight Foundation’s president.

As known, the disruption of the news industry’s business models by social media and tech platforms decimated local journalism jobs to the extent that many American communities and cities turned into “news deserts”, extended areas where there’s a legitimate local news vacuum.

The Knight Foundation’s announcement arrived just in time for the Knight Media Forum 2019, the yearly foundation’s roundup where journalists, techies, and philanthropists gather to explore new ways to strengthen local news.

This year’s edition, which took place in Miami in the past two days, was particularly important given the rising role philanthropy plays in the business models of media startups across the world.

Yes, because the “philanthrophification” of the news industry isn’t just an American phenomenon. Earlier this month, the Cairncross Review — a year-long review commissioned by the U.K. Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport to research the challenges high-quality journalism is facing in the country —  advised the government to grant charitable status to public-interest news media.

The move would allow nonprofit media outlets to benefit from tax-breaks and attract much-needed, additional funding.

More in general, a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 12 percent of European publishers see philanthropy as an “important” revenue stream in 2019.

In this sense, the pioneering work of the Knight Foundation, which has been funding public-interest journalism for decades, might represent a point of reference for other foundations who want to start investing in media.

Evidently, putting money in a local midwestern newspaper is different than financing a first-aid intervention in the developing world. Foundations have to learn how to effectively fund media endeavors and also how to properly measure their outcomes.

This is also the scope of an open letter published on Medium by Molly de Aguiar, Managing Director of the News Integrity Initiative at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, and Jessica Clark, founder and director of Dot Connector Studio, a Philadelphia-based media strategy firm.

In the letter, de Aguiar and Clark lay out a series of bits of advice and strategies for media funders in order to promote more effective and rewarding relationships between funders and grantees.

De Aguiar and Clark’s proposals range from initial “baby steps” like committing to pay grants within a certain quick timeframe to more demanding commitments like assigning multi-year grants that would allow media professionals to do their job without the constant obsession of the next, imminent fundraising round. And it seems that the Knight Foundation, with its 5-year plan, is moving in the right direction.

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