The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 02, 2011

Breakout Report 2: Increasing availability of news and information

Posted by Robertson Adams

Increasing availability of news and information

Mar 2, 2011 @ 13:21

Facilitator: Heidi Williamson, Berks County Community Foundation

Scribe: Christine Beddia, Coastal Community Foundation of SC

Quick survey: About half of participants are already deeply involved in funding local media and close to half are planning to get involved.

  1. What was the biggest challenge as you started?
  2. What’s your biggest challenge now?
  3. What was your biggest positive surprise?
  4. Who was your most important partner?
  5. How has the information landscape changed in your community?
  6. How has your community changed as a result of your project?
  7. What would you do differently?

Session Themes: Sustainability, building revenue, responsibility of the changing media landscape and partnerships


Are community foundations (CF) responsible because they are unbiased brokers of local information or should CFs just serve as silent supporters?  If the for-profit business model was broken, why would the nonprofit sector have a better model?  Should CFs fund third-party entities or try to offer journalistic guidance? 

One answer: CFs can help with the business model because civic engagement is a priority in CF agendas.  Also, there are some obvious local community partners that can create opportunities including local universities, county governments and place-based foundations.  There is also a layer of local sites ready to do more work to build revenue.  They are ready to dive in deeper.  Voice of San Diego is doing good work. 

Berks County Community Foundation Example:

Facilitator Heidi Williamson with the Berks County Community Foundation (BCCF) partnered with a local news station to offer local news.  BCCF saw the lack of local information in the public.  The foundation proposed an idea/business plan to the local station but realizes that sustainability is still an issue.  Funding, underwriting, memberships are still not enough.  But it was in part the competitiveness that added to the quality of the news now being offered.  BCCF is supporting the paper but allows the news staff to be the experts in the news thus continuing the generation of quality news content on a local level. 

Study the Landscape

Once the place-based media landscape is evaluated and the needs properly identified, a mission must be determined - replace local media or help it in its crisis?  One foundation determined that funding provided a community asset.  People having access to the same information on a daily basis provide a sense of cohesion and a sense of community. 

Conducting community indicators projects are one way to get CFs determining what partnerships will be needed to address the information needs.   For BCCF, Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge confirmed the objective and the media landscape in Berks County have changed as a result of the partnership, the in-depth study, and the funding. 


How do partners (newspaper, community foundations, third party editorial news site) work together?  Most participants commented that they are still exploring different avenues and mostly experimenting. 

The group agreed that the primary goal was in line with the Knight perspective: to add to the amount of information available in the community.  One way to achieve this was to first identify ways to increase or improve community information flow, e.g. elimination of an education reporter lends an opportunity for CF to support but also to find alternative ways to partner including volunteers, physical space and idea generation.  Local universities are good partners to align with because of students, technology and access.


  • Finding ways to make raw information available and accessible including public forums
  • Partner with a public library
  • Launching a publication from scratch requires a base of content pre-launch. 
  • Incentives like contests are needed for user generation
  • Hand-picking content providers, inviting local bloggers
  • Social media marketing
  • Money 
  • Finding experienced journalists to provide skill and expertise

Generating Revenue, a couple of ways…or not

Oakland Local attracts local journalists that add value that ultimately attract traffic. 

Some fluff content can lend value to other more investigative content pieces.  Feel good stories offer community pride and optimism that can motivate locals.   Strike a balance.

Bluffton Today is a successful local online bulletin that contains information and dialogue. 

Should support come from community rather than CF?  Should CF build a permanent line item in the budget to support this need because it is critical to civic engagement? 

Compare the arts business model with info business model.  There isn’t one there either. 

Possible solution: Start off with an entrepreneurial model rather than business model that struggles to find writers, resources, and readers. 

Revenue model to support the electronic news stream has not been figured out, yet younger generation is already using it.   

Find donor-advisors who will support information sharing even though pressure is on to use unrestricted funding for basic needs. 

Collaborative journalism- citizens and journalists working together to create content.  Create layered content that addresses raw data and adds local influence and opinion.

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