This Is Very Good News

It’s hard these days not to focus on what’s stupid, corrupt and/or depressing. In fact, I find it hard to avoid news that gives me heartburn.

Nevertheless, there are also nuggets of hopefulness available, as I was reminded when I came across this announcement from the Knight Foundation.

MIAMI—Feb. 19, 2019—The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced that it would double its investment in strengthening journalism to $300 million over five years, with a focus on building the future of local news and information, which are essential for democracy to function.

Knight called on individual and institutional funders to join in this opportunity to rebuild trust and foster sustainability in journalism, an essential democratic institution, starting on the local level.

Knight’s initial investments are in scalable organizations committed to serving communities at the local level — all of which are seeking additional support. These organizations are building new business models, strengthening investigative reporting, protecting press freedom, promoting news literacy, and connecting with audiences through civic engagement and technology.

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with–and probably tired of–my frequent complaints about the demise of local journalism (just this week, we learned that Indianapolis’ alternative newspaper is also ceasing publication), and the negative effects that the void of local coverage has had on local government.

The causes and consequences of the collapse are not a mystery; and the Knight announcement spelled them out.

Newsrooms across the nation have been decimated by the collapse of traditional business models brought on by the impact of digital technology and social media, which have drawn readers and advertisers to other information sources on the internet. As a result, many communities have turned into news deserts, with little or no local reporting.

“Without revenue, you can’t pay reporters. Without reporters, you can’t develop consistently reliable news reports about what’s happening in your town. Without that reliable news report, you can’t figure out how to run local government. It isn’t rocket science,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “We’re not funding one-offs. We’re helping to rebuild a local news ecosystem, reliable and sustainable, and we’re doing it in a way that anyone who cares can participate.”

The Knight Foundation was created and funded by a once-vibrant news organization, and this initiative will seek new ways–collaborative, digital, and local–to reinvigorate journalism at the community level. The grants will support several national organizations that serve as important resources for local efforts, including the American Journalism Project, Pro-Publica, Report for America and FrontlinePBS; it will also provide resources for defense of the First Amendment, tripling the number of lawyers working on local First Amendment issues and expanding the network of local attorneys available to provide pro bono legal support.

Equally important–and welcome–is the funding allocated to important efforts to bolster what we now call “news literacy,” the battle against disinformation and propaganda.

And finally,

Knight is investing an additional $35 million in research to support the creation and expansion of research centers around the United States. This research will study the changing nature of an informed society in America and will help build an emerging field of study to address pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the digital age.

Citizens can only act on the basis of what they know. An absence of credible information–or worse, its displacement by dishonest or manufactured information–makes democratic self-government impossible.

Democratic participation requires accurate and complete information.  I can think of very few initiatives more important than this one.

19 thoughts on “This Is Very Good News

  1. Sheila; what is the Indianapolis “alternative newspaper” which is ceasing publication?

    I stopped my decades of subscribing to the Indianapolis Star December 1st and, not surprisingly, haven’t seen that information on local TV channel news. The Washington Post on Facebook and on E-mail began requiring a charge to read their articles so I unsubscribed from their sources. How will the Knight Foundation’s funding “trickle down” to those of us who have no access to local daily or weekly printed news? If it benefits journalists where there is no outlet for good journalism; is it only self-serving? It reminds me of the current situation in health care; primary physicians no longer provide actual “medical care” but are basically information and referral specialists to in crease profits in all areas of the medical care system. Or am I misunderstanding the “good news”? I am asking because, due to the current corporate ownership of most local news outlets, I don’t understand the benefits to those of us seeking local news and information.

  2. Isn’t Bloomberg doing part of this effort by fighting the Russian disinformation and sneak attacks on our elections?

  3. Jo, A source for local printed news on the internet are the news sites for WTHR and WTTV. The stories are not in depth, but the basics are there in abbreviated form. Also, the IBJ covers in depth big local stories, but you have to subscribe.

  4. Gone are the days of bicycles and a good throwing arm to deliver print journalism to our doorstep. Bravo to Knight to encourage a 21st Century sustainable solution to preserve local news investigation and reporting. Individual subscription is a vote of confidence unless you savor coupons and car ads. The First Amendment requires our active support through subscription.

  5. Thank you Morton Marcus! As is usually the case you’ll nailed it! Bravo and Godspeed to The Knight Foundation and many thanks to you Sheila for posting this very good news!!

  6. One note from yesterday, I take exception to Vernon saying I “preach dystopia.”

    All I do is report our dystopian reality which is what I expect from our journalists lifted up by the Knight Foundation. And thank God for the Knight Foundation–I take every survey I receive from the Foundation.

    I used to publish the long-form journalism of ProPublica and guess what?

    Nobody would read it.

    Think, “Fast Food.”

    Think, “Buzz Feed.”

    We need an abundance of words to inform the American public, but the public is suffering from a short attention span.

  7. JoAnn,

    The local source that is closing is Nuvo. They were small, but they did a good job of covering local news in Indy for some time and one of only three competitors to the Star in the metropolitan area (IBJ and the Recorder are the other two).

  8. There’s more than one large city newspaper in Indiana. In fact, there are two in Ft. Wayne, and The Journal-Gazette is the traditional Democratic one. If you explore this link you’ll learn your way around it very quickly, and you’ll find out two things:
    1. It covers the state, and especially the goings ons of the Gen. Ass. better than any of the Gannett papers, and
    2. So far, it’s free.
    http://www.journalgazette.net/

  9. Peggy; thank you but I was afraid that was the news source. They stopped placing papers on the far east side quite a while ago and I have missed them; that will be a loss to their regular readers here.

    Wayne; than you for your info.

  10. There is a direct connection between in-depth reporting and opinion and a continuation of our teetering democracy, and the Knight Foundation is striking a counter blow to the daily propaganda we find in Fox and Fox-oriented print journalism. I appreciate their efforts, and so would Thomas Jefferson, a stalwart supporter of the First Amendment. We need more Knights and fewer Murdochs.

  11. As a retired paper boy I was of course central to the print news industry as a modestly paid but essential cog in the machine. Without me and my peers the news wouldn’t make it to the consumer as the stage musical “Newsies” pointed out. But enough about me.

    Today the national news is reported but only as one ingredient in a stew of fact and propaganda which requires skill beyond many to disassemble. It’s in there but too many prefer to be lied to than informed because the truth reveals ignorance but lies calm cognitive dissonance among the lightly informed. Like all advertising fake news strokes the brand and when that’s all one has it apparently feels very, very good to them.

  12. Good news for all of us who are “news junkies” and had a J-School advisor who was adamant about accuracy and not inserting your opinion into a story!

  13. Don’t hold your breath that anything in Indianapolis will improve any time soon. All the local media are part of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC), and therefore, they assist in promoting the projects of members thereof, which include, inter alia, developers, contractors, sports team owners and law firms representing them, all of whom want taxpayers to help fund their projects. In addition to drumming up support for developers, contractors, and sports teams, local media give free advertising to certain pet projects of GIPC members, like the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Newfields, in the guise of “news stories”.

    A prime example is Channel 13 pushing the Indianapolis 500, which, like most automobile racing, has been hemorrhaging fans for years. Younger people simply aren’t interested in auto racing, and as the fan base ages, they are less and less interested in paying a small fortune for parking a mile away, walking and sitting in the hot sun for most of a day just to see cars whizzing by so fast that you can’t tell who’s driving. Even NASCAR is losing fan support. Now, you might argue that Ch. 13 , whose nightly sports segment includes a “countdown” to the race and driver interviews, does this because it is an NBC affiliate and NBC plans on broadcasting the race, but the race won’t be broadcast locally until after it is over. Secondly, it shouldn’t come as a shock to discover that there are developers who want taxpayer assistance to help pay for some proposed project nearby. In fact, there have been stories about the IMS wanting taxpayers to help fund certain improvements there, like night lighting, for example.

    It’s hard to justify taxpayer investment in the 500 when the fan base continues to shrink (the 100th anniversary was a fluke). When I was a kid, you couldn’t get race tickets unless someone died and left them to you, or you purchased them at a premium price from someone willing to sell. Now, you can walk up to the gate on race day and get expensive seats. It is obviously a goal of the GIPC to try to drum up support for the Indy 500, but the reasons are purely pecuniary–to benefit developers and contractors plus the owners of the track. The same is true for the current push to get taxpayers to foot the bill for a stadium for the soccer team. Just how many professional sports teams can the taxpayers continue to support, especially in view of the fact that schools and roads are in deplorable condition? The GIPC is why you will never see any stories questioning the wisdom of TIF handouts, tax abatements, grants or other schemes prioritizing taxpayer support for wealthy developers, contractors and sports team owners over more basic needs that benefit everybody like roads and schools. Questioning the spending priorities of local government is what good investigative journalists would do, but that’s not going to happen in this town so long as local media all belong to the GIPC.

  14. Natacha; I come from a family of race fans and participants in the 500 Mile Race. In the 1930’s my Uncle Bob was a mechanic when they rode in the cars with the drivers; also in the 1930’s my Uncle Harold stole the ambulance and tried to qualify it for the race. In later years another Uncle Bob tried to qualify #29 in the race but never made it, he then had a crane place the car body on the roof of his Safety Auto Glass business downtown – great advertisement. The night before the race was the famous party outside the track known as the “Snake Pit”; harmless fun with few altercations. Always the day of the race news report on the “Snake Pit” was looked forward to; my favorite quote which signifies the heart of the party was the little boy who asked his Dad, “Why are those 2 men sword fighting with chicken bones?” It was a happy, fun time and businesses made profits.

    The fans have changed but; in those earlier years the entire city of Indianapolis was like Mardi Gras for the month of May. The race drivers, celebrities from “stage, screen and radio” along with politicians and business owners were here and celebrating. The track was open every day to watch practice, every weekend was qualifications so the pole position changed frequently until the last qualification day, making it much more exciting. The drivers and celebrities walked among the public; the entire city was about the race. Today it is rather boring except for the first qualification day to set the pole sitter and the race itself. Indianapolis was truly the World Capital in Racing during those years;. Today all attention and 30% of the CIB budget goes to support the Colts and Lucas Oil Stadium and the majority of the residents can’t afford a ticket to the games.

    This city is at odds with itself today; politics is the local sport and that game is fixed. Our daily “news” is evidence of that.

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