Last week, we hosted a webinar highlighting promising solutions to the problem of news deserts. Nearly every day, we’re reminded that local news in the United States is dwindling. Since 2004, about 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States—approximately 1,800—have gone out of business or merged. Hundreds more have drastically cut back local coverage. All told, about 1,300 U.S. communities have totally lost local news coverage as a result.

Newspapers are a keystone species of any local news ecosystem, and funders can play a key role in keeping news alive in the nation’s news deserts.

Watch the webinar below and use the time stamps to follow along in the recording:

The webinar featured:

  • Fiona Morgan (2:22), MIF’s journalism funders network coordinator, who moderated the discussion. Morgan, who brings her own experience and expertise on the subject, recently co-wrote a paper with Stanford University Professor James Hamilton titled Poor Information: How Economics Affects the Information Lives of Low-Income Individuals.
  • Penelope Muse Abernathy (5:28), Knight Chair of Journalism and Digital Media Economics at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism. Abernathy’s research on the decline and consolidation of newspapers across the country is a critical resource for funders hoping to understand the scope of the news desert problem. “It’s important to think about news deserts in terms of the lack of access to a newspaper,” Abernathy says, adding that there are three areas in need of investment, which include increased public and nonprofit funding for journalism organizations located in areas at risk of becoming news deserts. Learn more about Abernathy’s research.
  • Carmen Lopez-Wilson (17:04), program consultant with the Thornburg Foundation, who discussed Thornburg’s collaboration with the Democracy Fund to support a stronger media ecosystem in New Mexico. Lopez-Wilson’s program area focuses on increasing transparency within government agencies and other good government initiatives, and says that the foundation’s journalism investments stemmed from noting that more people were willing to engage in social issues when journalists had better access to data.
  • Lenzi Abma (23:38), program officer at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, shared what the foundation learned from its scan of the region’s journalism landscape and its partnership with the Knight and Ford foundations to establish the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund. The fund was launched in 2017 to help strengthen local news coverage for communities in Detroit. The landscape scan revealed a lack of watchdog investigative journalism and a sense that the city’s most important issues were not being covered.
  • Emily Bell (32:12), founding director of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, discussed how local journalism has become a central part of the Center’s research, which includes a survey on digital innovation for small-market newsrooms and other work.
  • Sam Ford (36:03), a Tow Center fellow and director of Cultural Intelligence for Simon & Schuster. Ford’s work in rural Kentucky offers innovative ideas for engaging with rural communities around local news.

About the Journalism Funders Network
Network MIF’s Journalism Funders Network is a diverse constellation of 50-plus philanthropy organizations working in journalism and media. The network is aimed at strengthening connections among members and giving funders ample opportunities to discuss their current work among peers. Want to join this vibrant and growing network? Email us at journalism@mediafunders.org.

About the Author
Nina Sachdev

Nina Sachdev

Communications Director

Nina is a many-hat-wearing, multitasking extraordinaire. She brings more than 15 years of journalism, news editing and marketing experience to her role as MIF’s communications director. Before joining MIF in 2016, Nina worked on the brand creative team at the corporate office of Petco Animal Supplies, editing and auditing internal and external marketing communications. In her career as a journalist, Nina has worked at The Dallas Morning News, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Weekly in almost every editorial capacity imaginable, including senior editor. Nina is the creator and co-editor of the award-winning The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, a book-length work of nonfiction that utilizes first-person storytelling to address the reality of healing from the effects of sexual abuse. Nina holds an M.A. in journalism from Temple University.