Many leaders in media and philanthropy are glumly making their way back North to their homes in the path of another arctic blast of late winter, after several days of basking in the balmy weather and illuminating presentations at the annual Knight Media Forum in Miami this week. But they will continue to feel the warmth of a community of purpose and action, after many panels and presentations highlighted the urgency and importance of building news and information resources at the local level. As The Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant said in his thoughtful keynote address, “Community, community, community is where we must and can do this work.”
Throughout the forum, panels focused on the importance of community foundations and local and regional place-based funders working together with media and community organizations to rebuild healthy media ecosystems in the face of challenging trends in journalism. And there were important announcements of new resources that will be available to support that work, including the Knight Foundation’s own commitment to double its contributions to journalism over the next five years to $300 million, as well as the launch of the American Journalism Project, which has already received commitments of $42 million toward its initial goal of $50 million to be used to build sustainable revenue for local and regional news outlets.
At the same time, all was not sunshine and happiness, as conference participants heard alarming calls for concern about the toxic nature of our media ecosystem, with bad actors polluting the public discourse with false and polarizing misinformation. In her frightening landscape of the current media environment, danah boyd, founder and president of Data & Society, alerted participants to wake up and pay attention to the flow of false information through familiar channels like YouTube, which are being used by younger generations to get their news. “Far too few people understand YouTube’s role in this environment, let alone the unique vulnerabilities that YouTube has and what that shows for us about the current state of misinformation,” boyd said.
Elsewhere at the conference, New York Public Library President Anthony Marx reminded us that Ben Franklin observed in the early days of our nation that the United States would be “a republic, if you can keep it.” And Marx confided that, for the first time in his life, he was truly frightened that we may not be able to keep it. Marx led a discussion about the findings from the report of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, which are broken down into three categories: Restoring Trust in Journalism, Strengthening Democracy Through Technology, and Revitalizing Citizenship in the Digital Age.
In the report and throughout the conference, the message was clear: It’s going to take a lot of effort to rebuild trust and hold our elected leaders accountable.
“The way we inform ourselves is insufficient to the demands of a democratic republic in the 21st century,” said Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation. “If you do not have a well and consistently, reliably well-informed citizenry, you will not have a functioning democracy.”
As Jennifer Preston, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for Journalism, helpfully pointed out, Media Impact Funders will continue to provide further opportunities to learn more about the myriad ideas and initiatives addressed in the conference. And indeed, we will be very pleased to continue the conversations begun in Miami in programs of all types —at conferences, in webinars and on conference calls throughout the year. Make sure to visit our events calendar to stay connected to these conversations and others.
Go to https://www.knightfoundation.org/kmf-2019 to watch recorded sessions from the 2019 Knight Media Forum.