A CALL FOR PHILANTHROPY IN LOCAL NEWS JOURNALISM

In a new report, “The Case for Philanthropic Support for Local Journalism in a Time of Market Upheaval”, Tony Proscio, of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, explores the current landscape of local journalism, with a particular focus on the role that philanthropy could play in revitalising the field.

The report suggests that the void in media coverage where comprehensive local news once stood, may be best filled through philanthropic funding. Author John Proscio argues that large news outlets no longer provide the breadth of local news they once did, and that what local news is provided reaches the public through highly specialized publications.

One could easily label this lack of local news coverage as a result of economic restructuring, but Proscio claims that local news is not merely another small business good devoured by the unattainable profit margins of its competition. He categorizes it as a public service integral to community involvement and awareness. Resuscitation of this dying field would help to better inform the public, which would produce a greater interest in the subject, and, in turn, a rise in civic engagement. Thus, local news media funding is essential if urban areas hope to foster voter participation in local politics and a sense of community.

As partisan government cannot provide its people with an objective voice, Proscio proposes that the funding required must be privatized. Philanthropic foundations currently invest in specialized journalism, or provide short term support to developing media outlets. They have not, however, invested in providing an overarching theory that will guide media outlets towards long term success.

Such an overarching philosophy is difficult to pinpoint, but one foundation believes they have a viable theory. As opposed to solely channeling support towards the initial development phases of local journalism, the Charles H. Revson Foundation funnels philanthropic funds into several levels of the local news output process. It supports middle level local journalism development through funding productions like City Limits, which covers local news stories that would be overlooked by large production companies. In some cases, these stories are picked up by larger media outlets, and local news makes its way to the public through them. At a higher level of local news production, Revson sends funds to Propublica, and hopes that its video journalism will attract a large audience. That being said, while working to bring attention to local news by feeding stories to more widely attended outlets is promising, it is not the ideal solution to filling the local news media void according to Proscio.

Ideally, Proscio claims, philanthropic foundations should support the development of a media entity that would objectively, and comprehensively, cover the happenings of a given community. Such an entity would be guided by community pride, and a well-defined mission statement. Proscio considers the Texas Tribune, a media publication thriving on member support and providing Texans with unbiased, inclusive, statewide coverage, to be a testament to his proposal’s validity. He argues that creating such an organization through philanthropic funding, would help society to better define what constitutes local news, and create competition in the local news sector. He concedes that multiple attempts at such a feat may be required, but the payout, an informed, proud, and involved public, is worth the market risk to donors.