Category:Perspective10 min read
“Today more than ever, we need to bolster the capacity of journalists and newsrooms to tell important stories that inform, inspire, and connect us across Minnesota. We look forward to engaging partners at all levels in the months and years ahead in this collective effort to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news.”
– TONYA ALLEN, PRESIDENT, MCKNIGHT FOUNDATION
Journalism is a force that has always been deeply intertwined with my life, beginning when I observed my father faithfully poring over the daily edition of the Star Tribune. As I progressed to high school, I was featured in the Bloomington Sun Current, which was covering our high school baseball games. The sheer pride of seeing myself in print, preserving that clipping as a cherished keepsake, and feeling like I was part of something larger left an indelible mark on me. In my college years, I maintained my connection to the communities I deeply cared about through publications like the Minnesota Daily and City Pages.
These personal experiences likely resonate with countless others across our state. Journalism, in Minnesota and beyond has played a pivotal role in uniting and elevating community members, in holding power to account and bringing truth to light, and in helping us understand and navigate trying times. The significance of journalism in this context has been often likened to the ‘fourth estate’ of our democracy, as famously asserted by Walter Cronkite when he said, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
Investing in a News Ecosystem that Strengthens All Communities
However, despite its importance to our society, the field has grappled with an array of challenges over the last two decades. Minnesota is witnessing the rapid demise of newspapers, public trust in media has plummeted to an all-time low, and how and where people, particularly younger generations, receive their news is changing. In addition, large swaths of Minnesotans do not feel accurately represented in coverage of their communities, particularly for communities of color and immigrant communities.
We also see many signs of hope and opportunity. Remarkable organizations like Sahan Journal in Minnesota, MLK50 in Memphis, and the nationwide Documenters network are at the forefront, pioneering innovations with an unwavering sense of urgency and a commitment to journalism that better represents the communities they serve. As funders, we have an opportunity to help resource newsrooms so they can better prioritize, center, and connect communities around the state that have been left out of mainstream news in the past.
Yet, our efforts must not be solely measured by how many newsrooms are launched (or lost). Research has conclusively shown that robust local news plays a vital role in fostering social cohesion and counteracting divisive national narratives. But strengthening community takes a multitude of intersectional efforts that are not exclusive to local news—we must connect this work to civic-minded organizations, organizations combating loneliness, and countless other efforts that are addressing the challenges of our time.
We also recognize that change will not happen overnight. The Medill School of Journalism recently released its most recent State of Local News report and found that “on the current trajectory, by the end of next year, the country will have lost a third of its newspapers since 2005. Discouragingly, the growth in alternative local news sources—digital and ethnic news outlets, as well as public broadcasting—has not kept pace with what’s being lost.” This is alarming and should be an issue that every civic-minded organization is paying attention to if not prioritizing within their work. (More on how they can do that by joining our efforts in Minnesota and beyond in a second).
Catalyzing Local News Through Press Forward
In recognition of the importance of local news as a pillar of our democracy, a coalition of committed funders has pledged over $500 million to bolster local news under the banner of “Press Forward.” Press Forward will seek to fund programs and organizations that will bolster democracy at the local level, support greater diversity, lean into digital technology, develop long-term sustainable models, and help drive demand for the high-quality local news and information necessary for every member of every community to thrive. The coalition includes national funders like Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Democracy Fund as well as community foundations like the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln and Wichita Foundation (and many more). McKnight is proud to be part of this coalition, acknowledging that without a reliable, representative media ecosystem, our mission to advance a more just, creative, and abundant future becomes far more challenging.
“Today more than ever, we need to bolster the capacity of journalists and newsrooms to tell important stories that inform, inspire, and connect us across Minnesota,” McKnight president Tonya Allen shared when Press Forward was announced. “We look forward to engaging partners at all levels in the months and years ahead in this collective effort to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news.”
While the initiative can not solve the local news crisis entirely, it can spark a movement and catalyze more funding for local news and information organizations across the country. Press Forward has multiple ways that its members are organizing: some funders are contributing to the national pooled fund, some are contributing aligned funding directly through their own grantmaking processes, and other funders are starting local chapters.
Introducing Press Forward Minnesota
It is with great excitement that McKnight is announcing the establishment of Press Forward Minnesota, a local chapter that will be focused exclusively on funding journalism efforts across our state. This five-year initiative will be focused on bringing more resources to the field of local journalism in Minnesota and strengthening the infrastructure and collaboration required to build a durable news and information ecosystem statewide.
Our first partners in Press Forward Minnesota are two Twin Cities-based funders, the Bush Foundation and Glen Nelson Center at American Public Media Group. Both funders have committed to supporting Minnesota-based media and journalism organizations with significant new grants and investment dollars with the shared goal of strengthening local news organizations across the state.
“Revitalizing local journalism requires investing in local solutions,” said Jeff Freeland Nelson, executive director of Glen Nelson Center. “We are excited to invest in Minnesota-based companies building technology to support local newsrooms and in companies testing new revenue models that will sustain local media organizations in the years to come.”
As a Press Forward Locals chapter, we have committed to:
- Support local journalism beyond existing funding.
- Bring new donors to the local effort.
- Establish or support pooled funds or funding collaborations that build common purpose and strengthen the local news ecosystem.
- Convene local stakeholders and advance mutual understanding and analysis of the local information ecosystem.
- Share models, tools, and lessons learned with other Press Forward Locals.
As we asked ourselves what it would take to achieve these goals, we realized we were missing a more fundamental question we had to understand first—how are communities across Minnesota currently getting their local news and information, and how can we best position our work to address their needs? To help answer this question, McKnight—in partnership with the Joyce Foundation—is funding a Midwest landscape assessment being conducted by the Pivot Fund to help identify emerging news ecosystems and help develop strategies for producing culturally competent, highly engaged, and highly relevant news and information to underserved diverse communities.
“Together we can make sure Press Forward Minnesota is an all-hands-on-deck approach strong enough to spark a renaissance in local news. Because a healthy, multiracial democracy depends on our communities’ ability to stay engaged, informed, and in strong relationship with one another.”
– TIM MURPHY, PROGRAM OFFICER, MCKNIGHT FOUNDATION
In addition to the landscape, we hope you will stay tuned for more exciting news around Press Forward Minnesota. We plan to have a kickoff meeting early this year that will bring together a combination of practitioners and funders from around the state to create a shared vision. The outcomes from this launch will be shared more widely in a webinar this Spring. We also plan to launch a pooled fund, housed at Minnesota Council on Foundations, that will begin grantmaking with more specific criteria in mid-2024.
“The Minnesota Council on Foundations is committed to supporting a robust media landscape across the state as an essential element of a well-functioning democracy,” said president Susie Brown. “We look forward to bringing philanthropy together to advance the important goals of Press Forward Minnesota.”
We will keep you informed as these efforts move forward.
We are actively seeking partnership in our efforts, and there are many ways your organization can get involved, from joining the pooled fund to sharing research and updates. If you are a practitioner, we would love to hear your ideas that you believe align with the goals and criteria of Press Forward Minnesota as they are finalized in the near future. We encourage you to get in touch to learn more and subscribe to our email list for ongoing updates. If you have any questions related to this initiative, the pooled fund, our support of local news, or the field in general, please reach out to me, Tim Murphy, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together we can make sure Press Forward Minnesota is an all-hands-on-deck approach strong enough to spark a renaissance in local news across our state. Because a healthy, multiracial democracy depends on our communities’ ability to stay engaged, informed, and in strong relationship with one another.