Like news deserts continue to expand in the United States, two of the most promising ways to tackle the problem have been the rise of journalists-entrepreneurs launching their own local news startups and the rise of philanthropy as a key revenue stream for journalism.
But the pursuit decline of local journalism – accelerated by the pandemic – has become too big of a problem for communities across the country to wait for individual entrepreneur journalists to launch new startups to replace what is lost in their local information ecosystems. Local community coalitions – led by local philanthropic organizations (many of which are just starting to donate to journalism), as well as civic leaders, ordinary residents and journalists – will increasingly take the lead in launching new business startups. local information to tackle information deserts in their own backyards.
Over the past 10 years, there has been an explosion of local and independent digital news startups (both non-profit and for-profit) in the United States and Canada. A study carried out this year by Oasis project (along with Google News Initiative, LION Publishers, and the University of North Carolina) found that there were 120 independent local startups in 2010 and over 700 in 2020, most of which have been launched in recent years. The study found that these startups were almost always founded by individual journalists, the majority of whom used personal funds and savings as start-up capital. And while these incredible entrepreneurs have done vital work for their communities, these organizations remain on the whole small and fragile: only 20% say they are financially viable; their median annual income is $ 79,000; and 90% have 10 or fewer employees (a quarter having no full-time employees).
A parallel trend to tackle information deserts has been the rise of philanthropy to fund local journalism, a central source of income for both. non-profit and, increasingly, for profit as well. But within the larger framework of philanthropic giving in the United States, giving to journalism, especially at the local level, remains a very small part of the philanthropic landscape.
A Media impact funders report using Candid data revealed that between 2009 and 2021, a total of $ 19.6 billion was donated by U.S. foundations to the media as a whole, of which $ 1.1 billion was donated by local community foundations. But only $ 124 million of that community foundation media funding has gone specifically to journalism in those 12 years. Frank data also shows that US community foundations donated a total of $ 55.5 billion during this period, making journalism 0.2% of US community foundation funding, and showing the enormous potential of philanthropy. local to give much more substantially to local journalism.
In 2019, The city has been launched by a coalition of New York City donors including the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Leon Levy Foundation, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and others who took the initiative to start and incubate the nonprofit news organization and provided $ 8.5 million in start-up capital. When it first launched, The City was a rare example of a major local news startup launched by a local coalition made up of multiple donors. This year saw two other similar examples: the announcements of the Ohio Local News Initiative – which is started by a coalition of Ohio donors and the American Journalism Project with nearly $ 6 million in seed capital – and The Baltimore Banner – which is launching with $ 50 million in philanthropic start-up capital (including a $ 15 million budget for a 50-person newsroom in its first year) from Maryland philanthropist Stewart Bainum.
The field of journalism will increasingly see new local news startups launched by local philanthropic organizations and often as part of larger coalitions that also include multiple funders and other local civic actors. This model is not only different from the launch playbook of the solo journalist-turned-entrepreneur who has made up the majority of local news startups in recent years; It is also an effective way to activate more local philanthropic donations for local journalism, and a critical step in providing the local news startup sector with increased scale, impact and financial sustainability.
Gonzalo del Peon is responsible for strategy and startups at the American Journalism Project.