The New Jersey 'inform and engage' fund to recognize reliable, accessible news in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts

The New Jersey 'inform and engage' fund to recognize reliable, accessible news in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts

Posted on April 30, 2013 by Janet Coats

There simply could not be a better name for it.

The Inform and Engage Fund is one piece of the New Jersey Recovery Fund, and an effort that The Patterson Foundation is helping to enable. TPF's gifts to the fund include a $100,000 commitment, but more importantly, they include the knowledge we’ve built working on both new media journalism and disaster relief and recovery initiatives.

There’s a reason the name is so apt. A key element in building any healthy community is the capacity for citizens to engage. It’s through engagement in civic life that citizens deliberate and, eventually, decide together about the kind of community they want to live in.

Information – reliable, factual information – is the fuel that feeds engagement. Never is this equation more important than for communities recovering from a disaster.

At its core, this is the goal of the Inform and Engage Fund: to recognize the role that reliable, accessible news plays in the health and well-being of New Jersey’s communities as they recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The fund also has collaboration as part of its DNA. It is born from collaboration among funders: The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Knight Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation and our own TPF. In seeking applicants, we’ve made clear that projects focused on collaboration and partnership will get preference when it comes to funding.

Applicants for funding include legacy news organizations who are challenging their old reputations as lone wolves, not team players; start-up, entrepreneurial projects that are driven by the passion and creativity of one person or a team; public media seeking to move their journalism into action; and universities seeking to feed knowledge into all of these efforts through research and continuing education.

Those who’ve been drawn to apply to the fund can be divided into three types, all of which are vital to feeding the fourth category of applicant:

  • Grassroots – Efforts that enable citizen journalism and citizen information-gathering.
  • Community-level journalism – Applications focused on providing verified information at the local or hyperlocal level.
  • Accountability journalism and research – Projects that bring a heavy dose of database and investigative journalism, or are built around serious public research.
  • Community deliberation – This is the category that should be informed by the first three, with a focus on facilitating public deliberation and decision-making based on a formal process organized around factual information.

Viewing applicants this way moves funding out of the traditional grant process of looking at each applicant as an individual, discrete project, and into a much more holistic view in which the applicants become part of a larger system.

This view of the work as part of a whole, we think, will contribute to both the short-term impact and the long-term value of the investment. The more the work connects, the more the news and information projects feed into community deliberation, the more this becomes not simply a response to disaster but a new reality for building civic life.

Selecting the projects to fund will occupy the partners for much of April. But even more important to the success of the work will be building a framework for true collaboration. That will mean going beyond simply agreeing to work together to putting a process in place that requires rigor, transparency and accountability.

The process we build as part of this work, we hope will serve as a model for other communities seeking to rise above the noise and confusion of disaster to provide their citizens with the information they need to make decisions to move forward productively.

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


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