‘Donor’ money funding local journalism 

White House Domestic Policy Council Director-designate Melody Barnes, during President-elect Barack Obama's news conference, announcing members of Obama's economic team, Monday, Nov. 24, 2008, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

RALEIGH — Over the next five years, a coalition of donors will be funding an initiative to support local journalism in the United States.  

“A coalition of 22 donors today announced Press Forward, a national initiative to strengthen communities and democracy by supporting local news and information with an infusion of more than a half-billion dollars over the next five years,” according to a Sept. 7 press release issued by the MacArthur Foundation. 

The total five-year funding goal for Press Forward could go higher, with pledges from the MacArthur and Knight Foundations of $150 million each just in initial start-up money.  

Grantmaking through Press Forward is expected to start in 2024. 

Per the release, Press Forward will “enhance local journalism at an unprecedented level to re-center local news as a force for community cohesion; support new models and solutions that are ready to scale; and close longstanding inequities in journalism coverage and practice.” 

The list of “initial partners” of Press Forward include The Archewell Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, Democracy Fund, Ford Foundation, Mary W. Graham, Glen Nelson Center at American Public Media Group, Heising-Simons Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Joyce Foundation, KFF, Knight Foundation, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, Lumina Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Outrider Foundation, Rita Allen Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Skyline Foundation, and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

In order to “strengthen local newsrooms” one of Press Forward’s stated priorities is “Advancing public policies that expand access to local news and civic information.” 

“Press Forward is independent of ideology and plans to work with More Perfect, a “bipartisan” initiative that is advancing five interrelated democracy goals, one of which is Access to Trusted News and Information,” according to the press release. 

More Perfect’s board is “co-chaired” by six individuals, most of which have ties to the Democratic Party, such as the group’s executive director Melody Barnes, a former 2008 Obama campaign director, and senior Obama adviser; Stephen Heintz, the President & CEO, Rockefeller Brothers Fund 

Co-chairs also include John Bridgeland, a former adviser to George W. Bush; and former Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal who led JSOC forces in Afghanistan but later resigned following his criticism of former President Barack Obama. 

More Perfect is an initiative that “operates under the fiscal sponsorship of The Miami Foundation.” 

The Miami Foundation was established in 1967 and is flush with cash according to its tax filings. 

In 2020, the organization reported total revenue of over $73.74 million. Gross receipts for 2021 came in at over $316 million.  

Among the groups giving money to The Miami Foundation are two offshoots of Arabella Advisors, a dark money group that has been a philanthropic pass-through of billions of dollars into left-leaning causes and organizations. 

The Miami Foundation received $250,000 from Arabella’s Hopewell Fund in 2021 and the New Venture Fund supplied $125,000 in 2019. 

Arabella Advisors also has a presence in North Carolina after opening an office in Durham in 2022.  Per its own annual report published this past spring, Arabella said the number of grants in North Carolina falling in the “201-800 range” for the period spanning 2017 to 2021.  

Donor or grant-driven journalism has become increasingly prevalent in North Carolina. 

In January of this year, The National Press Foundation and the National Press Club Journalism Institute announced awards of $73,920 in “Kozik Environmental Justice Reporting grants” to five journalists.  

The Kozik grants were specifically designated for stories “on environmental justice.” One of the grant recipients was Adam Wagner of McClatchy’s Raleigh News & Observer. 

McClatchy runs 30 outlets across 14 states and has had financial woes for the better part of a decade. The organization was bought out of bankruptcy for $132 million in September 2020 by Chatham Asset Management.  

The News and Observer’s website openly details the paper “increasingly relies on philanthropy to add reporting capacity on key issues,” and that “Roughly 10% of The N&O’s newsroom is supported by philanthropic partnerships.” 

The same type of philanthropy-funded journalism is also found at the McClatchy sister organizations in North Carolina, the Durham Herald and the Charlotte Observer. 

Per its website, the News & Observer lists almost 30 such partnerships the paper has had since 2019. One of those partners, Report for America, has been a seemingly continuous supporter. 

Prior to the bankruptcy buyout in 2020, the News and Observer had announced that “two reporters from the nonprofit Report for America organization” would be joining the paper’s “Growth & Housing Lab, set to launch in early 2020.” 

Report for America was launched in 2017 as a project of the 501(c)(3) organization “Ground Truth Project,” founded in 2014 by 30-year veteran reporter Charles Sennott.  

Many of the same organizations funding Press Forward are also financial backers of Ground Truth Project. 

Report for America boasts “300 journalists with 200+ news organizations across 49 states,” as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, and Washington, D.C., according to Ground Truth Project’s website. 

Report for America funds reporter salaries at 50%, requiring the news outlet to pick up 25% and another 25% coming from “local donors.” 

As with the News and Observer, Report for America-funded reporters in North Carolina are also found at The Charlotte Post, NC Health News, WFDD, The Triangle Tribune, WHQR, WFAE, Enlace Latino NC, and the Associated Press. 

In addition to donor or grant based funding of journalism, a recent proposal by the Washington, D.C. city council to find local journalism through “government-funded vouchers” allowing city residents to “donate to local journalism,” per a recent report by Axios. 

About A.P. Dillon 1127 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_