Lauren McKown, Vice President of Development and Communications, The GroundTruth Project, discusses the Report for America model for sustaining local news that benefits communities.
Report for America is best known for placing talented, emerging journalists in local newsrooms across the country. Those reporters take on under-covered topics, getting communities the news they need today. We also are trying to spark a more fundamental change: making sure local news is around for generations to come—not to save journalism; to save our communities. If you care about education, you have to care about local news. If you care about the environment, you have to care about local news. If you care how your tax dollars are spent… you guessed it!
The current business model for local news is broken, which presents the central challenge to our 100&Change proposal: How can Report for America best mobilize and sustain community support for hyper-local journalism?
For starters, Report for America leverages a two-to-one local funding model. We pay up to half of a reporter’s salary while working with our nearly 165 local news partners to raise the other half from local supporters.
Early indications suggest that the model is working. Less than halfway through the program year that ends May 31st of next year, our partners have raised $3 million from more than 10,000 gifts. With $100 million in 100&Change support, our approach could have a dramatic, national impact, effectively creating a $200 million investment in public service journalism across the U.S.
Now, we also appreciate that fundraising can be a scary undertaking, especially for newsrooms pitching to philanthropy for the first time. Report for America offers coaching and tailored resources on how to make the case for this work.
Those resources include administrative and informal services to our local partners, which is one way we build an on-ramp for foundations and newsrooms to work together for the first time.
These strategic efforts helped The Kansas City Star, which received $250,000 from the Missouri Foundation for Health in 2020 for reporting on gun violence.
“The relationship between us and Report for America was crucial in securing that... funding,” said Greg Farmer, The Star’s managing editor. “Journalists have to aim higher. Our work is valuable, and we have to be willing to ask for what we need.”
Another important aspect of our model: our focus is about more than getting folks to contribute once. We help partners engage in ongoing conversations with the community foundation, local barber, attorney, teacher, contractor, doctor, social and health care workers, and others—all centered around how journalism can serve the community better.
Through Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, communities see the impact of credible journalism in their own backyards and play an active role in its success. Even during the pandemic, support is expanding, particularly from community foundations and concerned residents. Growth in major gifts and corporate giving for journalism show promise as well.
We are changing the way people everywhere think about how reliable local news can be supported—and more importantly, how that work can be sustained for future generations. We are excited by the opportunity to extend that vital work with partners across the U.S.
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