Journalism & Media
Working to strengthen U.S. democracy by supporting accurate, just, and inclusive news and narratives that inform, engage, and activate Americans to build a more equitable future.
Why We Support This Work
Despite abundant and growing sources of news and information, only a small percentage of journalism and media is created with an intention to engender deep understanding about current events; lift up underreported or misunderstood issues; include and amplify diverse perspective; promote self-reflection, empathy, and mutual respect; and inspire civic engagement and action. Systemic social and economic disparities, a highly polarized political culture, and sophisticated disinformation campaigns compound the issue. As a result, large segments of the American public are misinformed, disengaged, and cynical about their role as civic actors and agents for social change.
In this environment, an expanding network of nonprofit journalism and media organizations is working creatively and entrepreneurially to provide the American public with the information it needs for rigorous critical thinking and informed decision making. Supported by philanthropy and enabled by digital technologies, these organizations work to provide the opportunity and tools to share authentic and alternative perspectives for robust civic dialogue and activism. These organizations create and disseminate journalism and media content by both professionals and engaged residents that is original, illuminating, and compelling, and they achieve a level of influence and impact disproportionate to their size and resources.
Our Journalism and Media program seeks to strengthen and sustain an independent media ecosystem that investigates the actions of institutions, explores the implications of policies, challenges social norms, amplifies diverse perspectives, and creates opportunities for public conversations and individual and collective action on urgent contemporary issues.
The Journalism and Media program invests in the creation, dissemination, and amplification of accurate, just, and inclusive news and narratives across three areas of media: Professional Nonprofit Reporting, Nonfiction Multimedia Storytelling, and Participatory Civic Media. In each of the three areas, we pursue the following approaches:
- Build strong, independent, and sustainable organizations and networks that exemplify leadership and innovation in a rapidly changing media ecosystem and comprise the media infrastructure required to meet the democratic ideals of a multiracial, multiethnic America.
- Address barriers that limit the creation of, access to, or participation in media activities, including the legal, safety, digital security, and technological challenges facing organizations and individuals.
- Promoting learning, leadership, innovation, and field-building opportunities that explore timely and emerging issues related to the production, dissemination, and engagement with journalism and media.
The program works in three areas of media: Professional Nonprofit Reporting, Nonfiction Multimedia Storytelling, and Participatory Civic Media. Through our grantmaking and non-grantmaking activities, we aim to achieve the following short-term outcomes:
- Strong and stable organizations and networks that anchor a resilient and independent media ecosystem designed to meet the needs of a diverse democratic society.
- Increased dissemination and influence of grantee content, ideas, and programming.
- Better preparedness for confronting legal, safety, and digital security threats.
- More opportunities for diverse communities to access and produce relevant programming and content.
- More knowledge and ideas generated and tested that enhance understanding of emerging issues within the fields we support.
- Increased capacity, leadership, and collaboration of people in the fields we support.
These short-term outcomes are expected to create the conditions for:
- Stronger and more representative networks of individuals and groups that engage for social change.
- More supportive processes and policies that protect independent voices and the free flow of information.
- A more connected field where learning and innovation are nurtured and shared.
Ultimately, this work is aimed at contributing to the following long-term outcomes:
- The public is more informed, activated, and engaged.
- Public and private institutions are more accountable to the public.
- Public and cultural discourse is more fact-based and grounded in experience and expertise.
In Professional Nonprofit Reporting, our goal is to strengthen and sustain national, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsrooms that pursue investigative, enterprise, and explanatory reporting that fill important gaps in the journalism ecosystem; defend Freedom of the Press; and promote organizations and activities that support journalists of color and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field.
In Nonfiction Multimedia Storytelling, our primary focus is on funding social issue documentary films and series that reveal the human side of policy debates, primarily through re-granting partner organizations, while also helping to build the infrastructure of organizations and supports that enable individuals from diverse backgrounds to become, and succeed as, independent filmmakers.
In Participatory Civic Media, we promote the use of participatory media tools, platforms, and practices to create and harness media that connects with communities, inspires action, builds civic capacity, and helps sustain social change efforts.
In Chicago, our focus is strengthening the journalism and media ecosystem that serves the news and information needs, and reflects the perspectives and lived experiences of, the diverse residents of Chicago.
Measurement & Evaluation for Learning
Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy.
In 2020, the Journalism and Media program completed a developmental evaluation of the strategy, covering the period between 2015-2020. The evaluation found a clear and urgent need for the Foundation to continue its work in supporting independent journalism and media, pointing to areas where we could respond more boldly to changes in the media environment and invest more deeply in work we have already begun for greater impact. It also identified mis- and disinformation, especially on the social web, as a primary threat to meeting our programmatic goals. We plan to make a limited number of experimental grants to help build the resiliency of communities most negatively impacted by mis- and disinformation.
Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.
Updated May 2022