Filling the gaps in the news ecosystem

Posted on September 14, 2010 by Janet Coats

The Knight Foundation announced yesterday that it was providing more than $3 million in funding for 19 locally focused foundations that will support news and information projects in their communities. The money comes in matching grants as part of the Knight Community Information Challenge.

The challenge helps foundations seeking to fill in the gaps in a community’s information needs. And Lord knows lots of gaps have been created in the information ecosystem during the last few years, as the capacity of traditional news organizations to cover their communities has declined.

Let’s not kid ourselves – in many cases, we aren’t talking about mere gaps. We’re talking about gaping holes, left as newsrooms slashed staff to deal with declining ad and circulation revenues in the teeth of a recession and a major shift in the ways people read and consume news.

As painful as those losses are, it is interesting to watch the myriad of efforts springing up around the country that are beginning to show signs of filling in at least some of those blank spots. It may take years, and lots of false starts, for the news ecosystem to grow as robust as it must to serve the information needs of a complex democracy. But it sure is exciting to watch the spirit of innovation take hold across a wide range of communities and approaches to news.

Not all of those efforts come from news organizations. The digital age is the great leveler – no longer do you need a printing press or a broadcast tower or a degree from a journalism school to provide news and information that can help a community make decisions about its public life. Watching organizations, such as foundations and public policy think tanks, start to enter into the newsgathering space opens up entirely new wells of content – much of which can become available for the first time – as well as new responsibilities for operating with transparency.

“These foundations are at the front line of an increasing movement of place-based foundations to improve the information health of America’s communities,’’ the Knight Foundation’s CEO, Alberto Ibargüen, said in making the grant announcement.

Ibargüen also made this point: “Any one of these projects could end up being the home run, but the reality is that most of them will not become self-sustaining.’’

And that’s the real rub of all the experimentation. We don’t lack for ideas for creating good – even great – journalism. Some of the experiments will succeed, some will fail and many will morph into things we can’t even imagine now. But at the core of it all is finding ways to sustain these efforts.

Next week, I’m going to be taking part in a gathering in Chicago called Block by Block. Organized by Michele McLellan as part of her fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Block by Block is a landmark gathering of journalism entrepreneurs to talk about what they are learning and the challenges they face. Sustainability, obviously, is the most daunting challenge of them all.

The Patterson Foundation is one of the organization’s enabling the Block by Block meeting. We believe Michele’s work in identifying and studying the better practices of entrepreneurial journalists is vital to the future of news innovation. I’m looking forward to learning from these smart innovators

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.