‘Local’ gets loud on journalism
Report for America sustainability report offers hope as communities pitch in to save local news
By Sam Kille, Report for America
Report for America has released “Local News Philanthropy: Strong Signs of Positive Movement,” a report on local sustainability and development efforts by the nonprofit program’s newsroom partners in 2020.
The report underscores the fact that the demand by communities for local news is healthy — it’s the industry’s business model that must change.
“It’s time for local newsrooms to view philanthropy not so much as charity, but as a vital revenue stream that can make up the difference between lost advertising revenue and subscriptions,” said Todd Franko, Report for America’s local sustainability and development director.
Report for America’s newsroom partners raised more than $4.6 million in 2020, 61% more per reporter than the prior year. Fundraising efforts by newsrooms, according to the report, gave community members an opportunity to step up and actively participate in restoring local news in their neighborhood. Nearly half of the donations came from individual donors who hadn’t previously done so.
“Local communities spoke loudly and the appetite to help is clearly there,” Franko said. “Newsrooms and philanthropic citizens just need the time, understanding and expertise to come together to replant local news in America.”
Among the report’s other key findings:
- In all, Report for America had a nearly $10 million philanthropic impact on U.S. local news in 2020. The total amount donated to Report for America newsrooms grew from $861,000 in 2019 to $4.6 million. Report for America matched local newsroom success with its own $4.6 million in corps member salaries.
- Community foundations are becoming more active — and are creating new models focused on long-term sustainability. In 2020, 56 foundations contributed to newsrooms through Report for America, an increase of 124% from the contributions of 25 foundations in 2019. Just as importantly, community foundations are becoming increasingly creative in creating structures that can harness interest from the community in the long run.
- For-profit newsrooms have accelerated their fundraising efforts but still lag behind nonprofit newsrooms. For-profit newsrooms are becoming more skilled at raising money philanthropically. The average amount raised per for-profit newsroom was $26,811, and per reporter this number was $18,825. Though they represented 48% of corps member positions, for-profit newsrooms raised 38.3% of all 2020 Report for America local share funds.
- COVID-19 and civil unrest did not disrupt charitable giving to journalism. In fact, giving in some newsrooms working with Report for America increased due to the pandemic. In most cases, COVID-19 undercut advertising revenue, but also increased the community’s understanding of the importance of local journalism. Those newsrooms that attempted fundraising usually succeeded.
Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. To learn more about its efforts to place journalists into local newsrooms across the nation, while empowering newsrooms to develop sustainable funding, visit www.reportforamerica.org.
About Report for America: Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities. Launched in 2017 and donor-financed, Report for America is creating a new, sustainable system that provides Americans with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and rebuild trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit media organization with an established track record of training and supporting teams of emerging journalists around the world and in the US. Report for America is a MacArthur Foundation 100&Change finalist, a global competition for a single $100 million grant.