Community Foundation support for local journalism is growing – and this funder is leading the way – Inside philanthropy

With local news in jeopardy, a quick review of developments in the journalistic space over the past few months suggests that community foundations may be the industry’s sleeping philanthropic giant.

Earlier this year, the CEO of the American Journalism Project, Sarabeth Berman, told me that her organization had partnered with several community foundations “to help them assess the information needs of their communities and develop business plans to incubate new nonprofit newsrooms that can fill the void left by declining business news and act as a powerful counterweight to disinformation. “

At the end of March, a Report for America report found that “one of the most notable trends is that community foundations are creating structures designed to make philanthropic support broader and more sustainable.” The report identified at least 10 cases across the country in which community foundations “have now set up special funds to attract and manage support for local journalism over the long term.”

Now we learn that the Silicon Valley Community Foundation has announced the winners of its first local journalism fund – over $ 300,000 in total funding for 13 organizations. Launched in March 2020, the fund aims to build stronger, more engaged communities and address the inequalities faced by communities of color, including black and Indigenous residents. Recipients include EASTSIDE Magazine, Spotlight on San Jose and Mosaic High School, which provides professional journalism training at San Jose State University to high school students from various communities.

“The focus on local news, stories and facts is what will help lead our country towards real change,” said SVCF President and CEO Nicole Taylor. “This is what will allow us to better understand who our neighbors are. This will help change the negative narratives that have been perpetuated in the media for decades about communities of color. Prioritizing equity in local journalism will allow us to celebrate the good of our communities. We need this good to fuel us for the challenges ahead and to finally bring our country to a place where all communities can thrive.

An “extremely important role”

Community foundations have “played an extremely important role in promoting quality news and information, and are increasingly key partners in inspiring topical collaborations, bringing their local expertise and convening power to the community. table, ”wrote Sarah Armor-Jones, author of Media Impact Funders. ‘ “Community Foundations and Journalism: Funding Data from 2009 to 2019.

Citing data from Candid’s Foundation Maps for Media Funding, Armor-Jones noted that 26 US-based community foundations awarded a total of $ 2.6 million in journalism grants in 2009. In 2014, that total was over that doubled to $ 6.5 million. Four years later, 80 community foundations have donated $ 26.3 million, an increase of 1,000% since 2009. In total, 140 community foundations have given $ 109 million in journalism grants (excluding l journalism education) to 597 beneficiaries between 2009 and 2019.

SVCF was the unchecked industry leader. According to Armor-Jones, the SVCF awarded $ 44.4 million in journalism grants from 2009 to 2019. The following nine largest community foundations gave combined $ 34 million. These foundations were the San Francisco Foundation, the Foundation for the Carolinas, the Boston Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the Rochester Area Community Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, the Miami Foundation, and the Tulsa Community Foundation. The $ 78.5 million awarded by the top 10 funders represented 72% of the total journalism grants awarded by community foundations between 2009 and 2019.

Armor-Jones noted that “because community foundation grants are reported without distinguishing between donations advised by donors, the available data makes it difficult to determine the extent to which local journalism is supported by staff who oversee discretionary funds and how much is led through donors. advised fund. “

Discretionary initiatives

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is distinguished by its history of discretionary projects aimed at local media. This support dates back to 2014, when the Knight Foundation chose SVCF to be part of an initiative to help community foundations identify strategies to strengthen local journalistic ecosystems.

This work resulted in two key programs. First, in collaboration with New American Media, the foundation launched a one-year scholarship for local journalists of color in ethnic media who report on the implementation of the Common Core framework of standards. “Although many journalists have already worked on the pace of education, many did not know Common Core and did not understand the structure of the school district in our region,” said Mauricio Palma, director of community building at the foundation. . “The scholarship has become a valuable skills-building training and a forum for journalists to exchange ideas and network.”

The foundation has also partnered with San Francisco-based Renaissance Journalism, which provides training, technical assistance, consultations, and grants to journalists and journalism organizations with the support of funders such as the Ford Foundation. , the Heising-Simons Foundation and the California Endowment. The SVCF has also supported the development of the Bay Area Media Collaborative with multiple grants, resulting in a series of journalistic projects focused on the housing crisis in the region.

Renaissance Journalism and SVCF then funded six projects focused on the 2020 census. Last year, the SVCF joined with other foundations to provide grants to 20 organizations working on local journalism during the pandemic through from the Renaissance Journalism Emergency Response Fund.

“Inform, engage and activate”

The SVCF’s local journalism fund received early support from the Knight Foundation. In 2008, Knight launched its Community Information Challenge to help community and local foundations, including the SVCF, meet the information needs of their communities through strategies such as rethinking public media, expanding the reach of l broadband access and increasing digital and media education.

Equipped with Knight’s support, SVCF leaders engaged local journalists, community leaders, donors and funders around critical regional issues. Palma told me that “it became clear that while income inequality had exacerbated deep-rooted inequalities and social injustices in Silicon Valley, mainstream news media continued to fail to cover issues that matter to communities. most affected by these same inequalities and injustices. “

For example, the SVCF created a local journalism fund as part of its Community Action Grantmaking program, a new grant-making program that it launched in late 2020 in response to recommendations from community partners. “We went back to journalists and community leaders, gathered their feedback and committed to investing in the local media ecosystem in our region to inform, engage and activate Black, Indigenous and other colored communities in participation. civic, ”said Palma.

The foundation looking for candidates with a clear focus on racial justice and plans to center the communities served in the design and implementation of the project. The SVCF has prioritized organizations led by people of color or black or Indigenous leaders, as well as allied organizations and those with an annual budget of less than $ 1 million. Discover the first winners here. The foundation will begin accepting applications for its next round of funding in the first quarter of 2022.

“We believe that accurate and inspiring community stories play an important role in informing, engaging and activating individuals and groups to participate in our democracy,” said Palma. “Our fund will strengthen local media nonprofits that strive to amplify the untold or under-told stories created by, about and for communities of color.”

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