The Colorado Health Foundation, a member of MIF since 2020, has worked to bring health in reach for all Coloradans for more than two decades by engaging closely with communities across the state through investing, policy advocacy, learning and capacity building. Since 2015, the foundation sharpened its focus on creating health equity for all Coloradans, especially those for whom health is furthest from reach, by intentionally prioritizing communities of color. Relatively new to media grantmaking, the foundation is well under way with efforts to build and sustain the flow of quality information across Colorado. We recently talked with Senior Communications Officer Jaclyn Lensen about the foundation’s commitment to equity and takeaways from its work to rebuild the state’s local news ecosystem.
Tell us the origin story: What sparked the Colorado Health Foundation’s interest in media?
Jaclyn Lensen: In the past, the Foundation has funded media entities and reporters that focused squarely on issues that aligned with our funding priorities. We found it challenging to understand and measure impact and solely evaluated grants in terms of stories completed with this approach. Without a compelling funding approach, staffing and financial support were limited.
In 2018, we deliberately shifted to concentrate on the media ecosystem and address deep-rooted equities within the sector. We see our new commitment to advancing the discourse on racial justice and health equity as an opportunity for us to do system-level work across media and journalism to be more equity-centered and to do more inclusive reporting that fosters health and wellness.
When you think about the importance of media for healthy communities, what key themes stand out for you? What bright spots do you see, and where is the greatest need?
Jaclyn Lensen: Our society is more divided than ever. We are gridlocked over social issues, race, gender, health and the economy. Media plays a significant role in creating a healthy democracy by providing critical information and commentary about the world around us. In terms of key themes that are top of mind for me:
- Lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in who determines what is newsworthy and among the field of journalism itself.
- Lack of racial diversity in what is reported and who the news covers.
- Disinformation and misinformation; and the need to support outlets most trusted by BIPOC communities.
- Far too many media entities are in turmoil in securing working revenue models that ensure they can stay in business as a trusted community entity that distributes information, news and important stories that reflect a community.
The bright spots? There is incredible momentum thanks to the success of the Colorado Media Project (CMP), which is a broad coalition of Coloradans from various sectors including media, philanthropy, business leaders, librarians, students and others who are concerned about the future of local news and information in our state. CMP’s mission is to better meet the information needs of all Coloradans by acting as a catalyst and advocate for innovations that make Colorado’s local news ecosystem more sustainable, collaborative, and accountable to the public it serves. They develop partnerships and programs designed to increase newsroom capacity, support collaboration, and engage the community in the journalism that strengthens our democracy. Currently, I see tremendous value in positioning our strategic investing with CMP at the core, while supporting other equity-focused efforts as they arise. CMP can ensure our funding is distributed and utilized to align with our mission. This provides us with a critical window of opportunity to disrupt the traditional media ecosystem and conceive a new path forward for journalism that strengthens local news, is more responsive to community needs and more inclusive reporting of racial justice issues we focus on organizationally.
How does the foundation’s commitment to equity inform your approach to media?
Jaclyn Lensen: Our commitment to equity serves as a grounding cornerstone. To address the structural racism that plagues the media ecosystem will require honest discussions, a more diverse workforce and rethinking how media engage with the communities they cover and the type of stories they tell. When race enters the public discourse about critical issues, the dialogue is often racially charged and lacks insights and perspectives from communities of color—those most impacted by diverse challenges. The declining media sector, which is disproportionately white, further exacerbates bias reporting that preserves and advances public narratives that counter racial justice.
We hope to contribute to a restructuring of the Colorado media ecosystem to be more inclusive and produce culturally appropriate reporting, reach influencers, amplify diverse perspectives reflective of communities of color and further local discourse about historical and current contexts related to systemic inequities.
Colorado has emerged as an exciting and compelling case study for how to rebuild the local news ecosystem. What are some takeaways or insights from your support of the Colorado Media Project?
Jaclyn Lensen: CMP has brought collaboration and funding to the forefront, as I mentioned above. While there’s a profusion of work under way, a few of the projects and milestones I’m most excited about are:
- CMP’s executive committee just finalized a theory of change that provides a North Star vision and outlines priorities for the next three years. This is big.
- The Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), a nonprofit within CMP, launched The Voices Initiative in 2021. Voices is designed to better recognize what it will take for local news coverage to reflect and reach diverse communities of color throughout the state. Convening targeted workgroups, COLab has completed and published recommendations for Black Voices and Latinx Voices. In 2022, COLabs has AAPI Voices and Native/Indigence Voices on the docket. Finding from this work is essential to deepening our understanding of both the issues and solutions—and how to best leverage and design our funding moving forward.
- In 2020, CMP offered its first round of Informed Communities grants, which support local outlets, community groups, media entrepreneurs and unique projects that put community listing and information needs at the center of the journalism process. In January 2022, CMP funded 25 grants that totaled $957,150 to organizations working to make the state’s local media ecosystem more sustainable, collaborative, inclusive and accountable to the public it serves.
What do you want other funders to know about your work?
Jaclyn Lensen: We are still in the early stages of our media investing work and know there is much to learn. We’ve had tremendous success in collaborating with other funders, CMP, local outlets and community members to date. For me, collaboration is critical. I’m interested in connecting and learning from others. If you’d like to compare notes, brainstorm ideas and/or have questions about our work, please reach out. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter, @JaclynLensen or LinkedIn.