A project of Democracy Fund

October 28, 2015

How National News Organizations Can Help Strengthen Local News Networks

The Knight Foundation is Investing in National-Local Collaborations Through Five Recent Grants.

In New Jersey we are developing a statewide model for a more connected, inclusive, sustainable news ecosystem. We’ve been lucky to have the Knight Foundation as partners in that work. Early on, Knight believed in the networked approach we are taking to connect legacy news institutions, new journalism start ups and citizen reporting across the state. Knight helped us build the Center for Cooperative Media and NJ News Commons to serve as a shared infrastructure for training, collboration and support serving all journalists in the state.

Now Knight is supporting a number of other critical projects designed to put new resources in the hands of local journalists by tapping into the strengths of major newsrooms and national organizations. It’s important for local newsrooms to be aware of these projects so that they can take advantage of the opportunities for collaboration and resources they provide.

(A version of this post originally appeared in the Local Fix newsletter, a weekly round-up of news and information on innovation and engagement in local news.)

1. Online News Association

Knight Foundation’s new grant to the Online News Association is focused on massively expanding their ONA local efforts. “To accelerate the digital transformation of local news, we need to support people at both traditional news organizations, online news sites and digital upstarts who are committed to innovation and embracing new ways to inform and engage people,” Knight’s VP of journalism, Jennifer Preston, said in their press release. The director of ONA, Jane McDonnell described ONA local as a peer-to-peer network of support and learning.

2. ProPublica

A longtime leader in participatory reporting, ProPublica will expand it’s “Get Involved” efforts through a new grant from Knight. ProPublica already makes a lot of their reporting, data and tools available for others to use for free, but with Knight’s help, ProPublica will be “open-sourcing even more resources from our own investigations, but also facilitating outreach among fellow journalists using digital tools to tell stories with and for their communities.” Whether you want to build on ProPublica’s data sets by localizing them for you community or try some of their engagement techniques out in your investigations, this should be a big help.

3. UNC at Chapel Hill

With support from Knight UNC is launching a new research center dedicated specifically to exploring “new models for community news” and support “testing and development of innovative digital media products for local news sites.” By creating essentially an R&D lab for small local and independent journalists they will be building on the news innovation and entrepreneurship work happening at UNC’s Reese News Lab. This work should result in some hands on tools and concrete practices local journalists can put to use.

4. Associated Press

In a project focused on levergaing the resources of the Associated Press to expand data journalism at the local level, Knight is supporting AP to “add additional data journalists to its team and increase its distribution of data sets that include localized information to thousands of news organizations.” Although some of this work will focus on supporting AP members, the press release also suggests that this project will include collaborations with “other news organizations on data-driven projects.” Most hyperlocal newsrooms can’t afford to hire a full time data journalist themselves, so having access to not just great data but also help in developing data-driven reporting projects could be a great service.

5. The Conversation

The Conversation works with university faculty to publish timely reports that leverage academic research and apply it to current events. They call this approach “knowledge-based journalism” that provides “evidence-based, ethical and responsible information” to inform public debate. All of their articles are available to use under creative commons licenses but new funding from Knight will “promote the distribution of our articles to local and regional newspapers across the United States.” This is a great way for small newsrooms to strengthen connections with experts at local universities and it can help campuses bring their research to bear on local issues.

As the media landscape shifts, we need to create stronger collaborations across newsrooms of different sizes, scopes and styles. However, it is not just enough to create a toolkit and expect that to transform habits and practices in newsrooms and communities. That’s why I’m glad to see that many of these grants also include other kinds of support — mentoring, coaching, peer-to-peer networks — so that we cannot just share lessons but also build on them.

Knight Foundation is one of the nation’s largest journalism funders, and it is clear they are trying to experiment with how they create grants to not only support great national organizations but also foster strong networks and create tools that are of use to all kinds of journalists.