Reviving Local Journalism: the Power of Philanthropy in the Digital Age




Can Philanthropy Save Local Newspapers?

Revitalizing Local News: Can Philanthropy Be the Solution?

70 million Americans live in a county without a newspaper, according to a 2022 report cited in an editorial by the Washington Post’s editorial board. The decline of local newspapers can be attributed to the rise of the internet, which has led deep-pocketed advertisers to shift their focus to audience-targeting capabilities offered by platforms like Facebook and Google. Additionally, web-based marketplaces have taken away a significant portion of newspapers’ revenue from classified ads.

However, amidst this decline, there is a glimmer of hope. An initiative called Press Forward, announced this month, aims to provide more than $500 million over five years to boost local news. This initiative is a collaboration of 22 donor organizations, including the Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The injection of such a substantial amount of funding is expected to help find a durable and replicable business model for local news.

While the financial support is crucial, it is equally important to elevate local news on the philanthropic food chain. National and hometown funders need to prioritize this pivotal American institution. Failing to do so puts more pressure on public policy solutions, which may not always align well with the principles of independent journalism.

One of the goals of Press Forward is to build the necessary infrastructure, ranging from legal support to membership programs, that local news providers rely on to deliver their product. Jim Brady, vice president of journalism at the Knight Foundation, highlights that news entrepreneurs now have easier access to launch local sites due to existing technologies developed by their predecessors. However, there is still more development work to be funded in this area.

Looking ahead, local philanthropic interests across the country can learn from the Press Forward partners and invest in the news organizations in their own communities. By doing so, they can contribute to the revitalization of local news and ensure its sustainability for the future.