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Journalists of color worry a $500 million effort to boost local news outlets will leave them behind

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Several organizations are urging the Press Forward Initiative to commit more explicitly to funding diverse news outlets.

BY DAVID BAUDER

Some organizations representing minority journalists say they’re worried that outlets reporting on their communities will be left behind in a recently announced $500 million initiative aimed at boosting the struggling local news industry.

They urged that Press Forward Initiative, a group of 20 funders led by the Knight and MacArthur foundations, to more explicitly commit to funding these outlets, particularly those run by minorities.

“They’re sort of skirting around it,” said Martin Reynolds, co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, on Tuesday.

There was no immediate comment from the funders. In announcing the $500 million pledge two weeks ago, the funders said they wanted to “move resources to newsrooms and organizations that are improving diversity of experience and thought,” as well as into underserved communities.

Reynolds pointed to research showing that philanthropists tended to favor organizations run by whites for funding, more than minorities, and are more apt to put restrictions on the use of grants given to nonwhites.

He said he’s also concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down affirmative action in college admissions will make funders less willing to make racial equity a priority in decisions about where to spend.

Microphones and recorders for journalism symbol. (Photo provided/Rochak Shukla for Freepik)

A recent survey by the National Trust for Local News found that 53 percent of leaders at community media outlets that serve specific racial or ethnic communities said their organizations were likely to go out of business within five years based on how things were going for them financially.

The letter to Press Forward sent on Tuesday was signed by the Asian American Journalists Association, the Indigenous Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Local news in the U.S. has been decimated over the past two decades by a collapse in advertising, leading many newspapers to close or operate in a “ghost” state. Some philanthropies have stepped up in recent years to try and fill the gaps.

The organizations that spoke out on Tuesday said they “didn’t hesitate to applaud” when the latest funding initiative was announced and were pleased that “improving diversity of experience and thought” was set as part of the mission.

“As this initiative unfolds and decisions are made about where support is directed, we want to be clear: Racial and ethnic diversity, equity and belonging must be among the pillars of its foundation,” the letter said.

Editor’s note: This article, originally published on Sept. 20, 2023, is part of a partnership the Chronicle of Philanthropy has forged with the Associated Press and the Conversation to expand coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits. The three organizations receive support for this work from the Lilly Endowment. The AP is solely responsible for the content in this article.

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