Major philanthropy organizations, led by the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation, will invest at least $500 million in local news over the next five years through the new Press Forward initiative.

The details of Press Forward were formally announced on Sept. 7 in news releases from Knight Foundation and from Press Forward.

Leaders at the journalism programs at Knight and MacArthur previewed the Press Forward initiative in August at LMA Fest, the annual in-person conference of the Local Media Association in Chicago. Press Forward was the primary topic of a keynote conversation about philanthropy’s role in local media, moderated by Dr. Toni Draper, chief executive officer of The AFRO.

Kathy Im, director journalism and media for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Jim Brady, vice president of journalism for the Knight Foundation, described the goals of the funding initiative as:

  • First, recruit more funders to make journalism a top funding priority
  • Second, put that money into the field where it’s needed most

More than $500 million has already been committed toward the effort, and the goal is to grow that to $1 billion for local news in the next five years. So far, at least 20 funders have joined the campaign, led by $150 million in funding from Knight and $150 million from MacArthur.

“We know there’s a connection between access to information and people making good civic democracy choices,” said Brady, talking about the effort to persuade additional funders to prioritize support for journalism.

“Democracy is a strong sell,” added Im. “Whatever is your priority for funding, misinformation undermines that. Journalism is the way to drive impact on that. It should be your second priority.”

Brady said the Press Forward effort would seek to put money “into the field in the places where it’s most needed,” including news deserts and philanthropic deserts, and in ways that improve access to quality information for all Americans.

Im added that Press Forward will broadly seek to support four types of local information sources that are “consequential providers and sources of information,” including both nonprofit and for-profit newsrooms, public media and academic institutions.

Press Forward will include both “pooled” funding and “aligned” funding, according to Brady and Im. The details on exactly how applications will be taken and funds disbursed are still being worked out, with Brady joking: “Don’t send me an application on Sept. 7.” On the Press Forward website, newsrooms interested in seeking funding are advised: “Please hold your inquiries until grantmaking guidelines are released in early 2024.”

But Im and Brady did detail the four areas of funding that will be the focus of Press Forward:

  • Supporting local newsrooms that have the trust of communities.
  • Growing the infrastructure of local news by supporting efforts to help publishers with scalable technology and shared services.
  • Supporting diverse newsrooms in underserved communities and news deserts.
  • Exploring public policy options to expand access to local news.

MacArthur Foundation has already announced that journalism will become a new core area of its funding focus, and has posted several jobs to lead that effort. Im and Brady indicated that the Press Forward campaign will also add staff to lead that effort.

Im summarized the challenge that these funders hope Press Forward will help solve: “Bad information is free. How do we make good information more easily accessible?”