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Press Forward brings much-needed support for local news

A man speaking into a number of microphones.

I was pleased to see this announcement from the MacArthur Foundation:

A coalition of 22 donors today announced Press Forward, a national initiative to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years. Press Forward will enhance local journalism at an unprecedented level to re-center local news as a force for community cohesion; support new models and solutions that are ready to scale; and close longstanding inequities in journalism coverage and practice.

I think this is huge. As I wrote the other day, I think building a commons of tightly-focused newsrooms is absolutely key:

A wide news commons, comprised of many smaller newsrooms with specific areas of focus, as well as the perspectives of individuals in the community, would improve our democracy at the local level. In doing so, it would make a big difference to how the whole country works. I’d love to see us collectively make it happen.

The new initiative has a few key areas:

Strengthen Local Newsrooms That Have Trust in Local Communities: the announcement suggests they will provide direct philanthropic funding to exactly the kinds of newsrooms I’ve been talking about.

Accelerate the Enabling Environment for News Production and Dissemination: Providing shared infrastructure of all kinds is going to be really important. As a rule, I believe newsrooms should be spending their time and resources on things that make them uniquely viable. The various commodity resources that every newsroom must build — technical tools, legal assistance, revenue experiments, help with people operations, assistance with reaching audiences — should be shared so that everyone can take advantage of improvements an discoveries, in a way that keeps costs low for all.

Close Longstanding Inequalities in Journalism Coverage and Practice: ensuring “the availability of accurate and responsive news and information in historically underserved communities and economically challenged news deserts” is vital here. Again, as I mentioned: direct subscriptions don’t work in communities were few can afford to pay. Philanthropic support can help ensure peoples’ stories are told — and when they are, local corruption measurably decreases.

Advance Public Policies That Expand Access to Local News and Civic Information:‌ supporting public policies that will protect journalists and improve support for newsrooms.

My hope is that most of the money will go directly to newsrooms, and to the sorts of shared infrastructure that every newsroom needs. I also hope that this shared infrastructure will be open sourced as much as possible, so that any public interest organization can take advantage — thereby increasing the impact of these donations. While public policy support is important, communities need coverage now, particularly in the run-up to the 2024 election.

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