News Leadership 3.0

June 04, 2009

Foundations to the rescue as local news organizations diminish?

“New Media Makers” documents a growing role of foundations in supporting new community news outlets to fill information gaps and that holds promise for creating a new news ecosystem that is more diverse and more engaging to citizens as the news industry declines.

A new report pushes back at the notion that the decline of traditional news organizations will inevitably result in a vast wasteland of bloggers with agendas dominating the information stream.
Instead, the Knight Community News Network report finds that new structures for producing journalism are emerging to fill information gaps in local communities, often with support from foundations.
New Media Makers,” says 180 foundations have contributed $128 million to support 115 news projects in 17 states and the District of Columbia since 2005.
“Philanthropic foundations are increasingly embracing the idea that journalism projects can be a funding fit,” says Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which operates the Knight Community News Network.
“These are not random acts of journalism, such as eyewitnesses uploading photos or videos of a major catastrophe. Nor are they the rants of Internet cowboys opining on the state of neighborhood affairs in their individual blogs,” the report says. “Rather, these new projects are often organized acts of journalism, constructed with an architecture and a mind-set to investigate discrete topics or cover geographic areas. The projects provide deliberate, accurate and fair accounts of day-to-day happenings in communities that nowadays have little or no daily news coverage.”
The report profiles four news organizations: New Haven Independent, PlanPhilly in Philadelphia., Voice of San Diego in California and the New Castle News & Opinion Weekly in Chappaqua, N.Y.
Perhaps of most interest to established news organizations is a database of foundation-assisted news organizations. Editors can use the database to discover sites in their areas that may be helping to fill coverage gaps.
These emerging organizations may not offer the complete, daily, fine-tuned packages that traditional journalists associate with quality news coverage. But their entry into what could be a more diverse and citizen-engaging news ecology is welcome.
(Disclosure: I coach community news startups as a consultant to the Knight Foundation, which is partnering with local community foundations to fund new initiatives through its Community Information Challenge. New Haven Independent and Voice of San Diego are among the projects receiving funding.)

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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