Journalism job cuts: From grief, resolve

Join an INN Town Hall:
Challenges & Possibilities in Nonprofit News

Journalism lost a thousand jobs last week, a gut-wrenching cap to the loss of 40 percent of newsrooms jobs since the early ‘90s. It’s particularly devastating to local news. Gannett cut some 400 people, a loss that will be felt and grieved not only by journalists, but throughout states and towns losing reporters and editors, often in places where reliable local news already was getting hard to find.

But there is this, and it’s important to think about:

These cuts are falling on a different landscape now. Because civic leaders are no longer waiting for a perfect answer to the puzzle of how to pay for local news coverage. They’re moving. With tremendous resolve and no small amount of cash, people well outside of the news world are rebuilding journalism as it’s always been intended: a vital part of what makes a community.

A previous round of Gannett cuts inspired local donors in Memphis to raise more than $6 million to launch one of the biggest news startups in the country, The Memphian. It’s now publishing daily.

After seeing city news coverage decimated in New York, the Revson Foundation moved boldly to create an alternative and built a coalition of funders to launch The City.  It’s now hiring journalists and will begin publishing local news this spring.

American Journalism Project is raising millions to bolster and build more than 20 top nonprofit newsrooms around the country.

And similar things are happening at a grassroots level. In Rhode Island, a Unitarian Church raised money for a local environmental newsroom, EcoRI. In Michigan, college students called donors for the East Lansing Info. In Oregon, local foundations are funding a new collaborative journalism hub, Underscore.

Across the country, individuals donated millions in the last two months of the year through the NewsMatch campaign to support more than 150 news nonprofits.

Every round of cuts in commercial media triggers a round of phone calls and tweets to us here at the Institute for Nonprofit News. We’re a network that links and helps support more than 200 public service news organizations. The calls come from people resolving to take the future of news into their own hands.

Some of the recent callers include a Michigan foundation leader who wants to fund news startups and a businessman in the South planning to do the same. A woman using a recent inheritance to create a news site for her city. And an owner of a family newspaper is seeking alternatives to selling in hopes of preserving local control of local news for the next century.

This kind of resolve is making a difference. Over the last ten years, community and foundation support has built nonprofit news from a couple dozen outlets to more than 200. There are now more than 3,000 people working in nonprofit news. A back-of-envelope estimate tells us the growth of nonprofit newsrooms has replaced roughly one out of every 10 newsroom jobs lost in the U.S. It’s not enough, but it’s accelerating, and the success of it is going to matter a lot to all of us.

Independent nonprofit newsrooms grew tenfold over the last decade. If we can pull that off again, we will have more than 20,000 journalists in new jobs covering our civic life. And that is enough to cover our civil society at a level that keeps supporting democracy.

Is nonprofit news “the” answer? We often get that question. Nonprofit news isn’t the only answer to the economic problems of news media — but it sure is one of them.

So, please join INN in a public discussion to explore what is possible. Anyone can sign up for the INN Town Hall: Challenges & Possibilities in Nonprofit News at 12 p.m. PST on Wednesday, Feb. 13. You can register here, free.

We will talk candidly about the challenges — and there are many  — as well as what is working across the country in nonprofit news. We’ll answer as many of your questions as we can.

We’re at a juncture where, from neighborhood groups to national foundations, we can rebuild journalism, not as the business it was, but as a public good. Bring your resolve and questions and join us in exploring the promise of nonprofit news on Feb. 13.

In the meantime: To all the great journalists whose jobs have been cut, who think their communities deserve better, go talk to your town. Ask people who aren’t journalists what they need. What news do they miss? What’s going uncovered? What does independent news mean to them? What would they support, and how? For civic leaders and citizens wondering if you can build your own news source to restore local reporting, go talk with some reporters or editors. What will it take?

It is out of such conversations that new solutions to news coverage are being born.

Sue Cross
CEO and Executive Director
Institute for Nonprofit News