Knight Blog

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

Strengthening support for local news and information projects

Sept. 5, 2012, 9:54 a.m., Posted by Susan Patterson and Bahia Ramos Synnott

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Photo Credit: Flickr user pamhule

As our colleagues head to New Orleans this week for the Council on Foundations fall conference, the city’s community foundation is serving as a great example of investing in ways to keep residents informed about local issues.

In recent years, the Greater New Orleans Foundation invested in a local news site called The Lens and helped boost coverage of the city’s large amounts of charter schools. Now, the foundation will support a local NPR affiliate in expanding its classical music programming to include news coverage.

It’s just one of 20 local news and information projects named winners today in the 2012 Knight Community Information Challenge. Awarded a combined $3.67 million in matching funds, community and place-based foundations are implementing projects that will help them take a leadership role in addressing issues relevant to their communities.

Here are some of the strategies and trends emerging from this year’s winners:

  • Opening up data and making information mobile: The Boston Foundation will train dozens of journalists and community members to develop data skills and use new data visualization technology to help tell better stories. One example might be taking child poverty data and mapping it alongside commute times in Boston, to show a correlation between the two that might be used in transit planning.
  • Strengthening the local news and information infrastructure: New collaboratives will create ways to share content across print, web and radio platforms. In New Jersey, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation will establish an independent news outlet and help existing sites grow by providing co-op members with an infrastructure for working on collaborative projects. The co-op will also hire three dedicated reporters to cover pressing state issues on topics like human rights, social inequality and state policy issues. The Santa Barbara Foundation, meanwhile, will launch Newsource, an independent, in-depth investigative news and analysis site, with an emphasis on content relevant to the county’s substantial Latino community.
  • Empowering communities around social issues: In Mississippi, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation will help residents targeted by payday lenders in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Horizon oil spill learn about local safe lending options. In Washington, D.C., the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region will launch a tool that will track affordable rental properties to enable information sharing. Nonprofit advocacy organizations will use it to focus tenant organizing activities and landlord outreach to the most at risk properties. 

This year’s winners join the more than 80 community foundations who are undertaking investments in news and information projects. By developing real expertise in this area, they’re demonstrating ways in which their projects are worthwhile investments to both the field of philanthropy and their local communities.

Since Knight first began running the challenge five years ago, we’ve learned a lot about how community and place-based foundations are uniquely positioned to serve as community leaders. A recent series of evaluation shows how they’re using all the assets at their disposal to help transform their organizations, become more effective leaders and agents for community change.

If you’re in New Orleans participating in the council’s fall conference, we hope you’re attending a 1 p.m C.T. Sunday session where Vikki Porter, the director of the Knight Digital Media Center at USC/Annenberg, is hosting a workshop for community foundation leaders who want to explore strategic opportunities in the digital age. CEOs and program and communications professionals will participate in a discussion on strategies, approaches and best practices to foster informed and engaged communities.

Registration will also open soon for the 2013 Media Learning Seminar, taking place in Miami Feb. 10-12. The event will bring local leaders, tech experts and peers in philanthropy together to discuss how foundations can - and are helping residents be informed about the issues that shape their communities.

Learn more about this year’s challenge winners and about the Media Learning Seminar at informationneeds.org.

By Knight Foundation’s Susan Patterson, program director/Charlotte and Bahia Ramos Synnott, director/Community Foundations