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Knight Foundation to Aid Journalism    02/19 06:55

   NEW YORK (AP) -- The Knight Foundation says it will invest $300 million in 
local journalism over the next five years, seeding several programs designed to 
kick-start an industry decimated by layoffs and newspaper closures over the 
last 15 years.

   The plans, announced Tuesday, will double the amount of spending the 
foundation started by newspaper publisher brothers John S. and James L. Knight 
has been making in this area over the past few years.

   Among the beneficiaries are the American Journalism Project, which provides 
grants to local nonprofit news organizations; the investigative site 
ProPublica; Report for America, a service organization that pays for the hiring 
of local journalists; and PBS' "Frontline," the documentary program that's 
making its first foray into local news.

   "What this initiative aims to do is really help build a future for local 
news," said Jennifer Preston, vice president for journalism at the Knight 
Foundation.

   A spate of philanthropic efforts, including a $300 million initiative 
announced by Facebook last month, has drawn attention to how declining profits 
and readership has bled local journalism. Nearly 1,800 weekly and daily 
newspapers have closed since 2004, and the number of working journalists has 
been cut in half during that period, according to a University of North 
Carolina study.

   Until 2005, Knight had focused much of its journalism philanthropy on 
education. But it began focusing on helping news organizations weather the 
technological changes to the industry and, since 2015, has funded more local 
projects. They include supporting an effort by 17 news organizations in the 
Philadelphia area for a report on the impact of mass incarceration.

   Preston said Knight hoped its commitment would spur other funding sources to 
join in support of local news.

   While PBS' "Frontline" primarily reports on national and international 
topics, it frequently works with local journalists to bolster its understanding 
of issues, said Raney Aronson-Rath, the show's executive producer. She cited 
the work of New Orleans-based reporters for a story about the aftermath of 
Hurricane Katrina.

   With what is happening in the industry, it's getting harder to find those 
knowledgeable journalists, she said.

   With a $3 million grant from Knight, "Frontline" will hire an editor and 
reporters in up to five communities to work specifically on agreed-upon topics 
like housing, education, law enforcement and access to voting. Some of the work 
may result in a "Frontline" story, but the primary purpose is local reporting 
on those issues that will appear within the affected communities, she said.

   Many believe that a breakdown in trust about journalism, for all the time 
that it is fanned by national politicians, begins at the local level when 
people realize what they are missing by not having reporters seeking out news 
and holding officials accountable.

   "This is a democracy problem," Aronson-Rath said.

   The American Journalism Project, which is getting $20 million from Knight, 
is a venture philanthropy firm started by the founders of two successful news 
sites, the Texas Tribune and Chalkbeat. Their idea is to raise money to start 
as many similar local journalism projects as they can.

   Knight has also supported the Documenters Program, started by the City 
Bureau in Chicago, where citizens are trained by journalists and dispatched to 
cover local government meetings. The project is expanding to other cities.

   That effort, however, illustrates the challenges faced by philanthropists. 
Funding specific investigative projects has its worth, but the impact of 
cutbacks is seen --- or, more accurately, not seen --- in the thousands of 
state, city and town government organizations whose meetings are no longer 
attended by reporters on a regular basis.

   Recovering what has been lost by the thousands of journalists no longer on 
the beat requires fundamental changes in the business of local journalism. 
Preston said Knight recognizes this and is funding efforts designed to develop 
more sustainable business models.

   "We are at a critical juncture at this moment in time to make these 
investments at a local level to help rebuild trust in journalism, one community 
at a time," she said.


(KA)

 
 
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