Strengthening Local Journalism in 2019
Recapping Our Goals
In 2019, the Foundation set forth four goals to guide its journalism philanthropy. We want to:
- Broaden and deepen public affairs reporting
- Enhance collaboration, engagement, and entrepreneurship in journalism
- Invest in human capital, to increase the racial and ethnic diversity and the capacity of reporters working locally
- Defend press freedom, to ensure journalistic independence and effectiveness
In 2019, the Foundation made over two dozen journalism grants, totaling over $2.5 million, to organizations whose work aligned with one or more of these goals. We hope that investing in these four areas will help us achieve a journalism ecosystem that is inclusive, sustainable, and free of coverage gaps so that all people, regardless of social or economic distinction, have access to the news they need to be informed and engaged in our democracy.
To understand the Democracy Program’s progress on these goals in our first year, we have looked to our partners’ achievements in 2019. There are many other ways to measure advancement. For example, we have partnered with the Center for Media Engagement to look at Chicagoans’ perceptions of the news and characteristics of local coverage. We’ve also worked with our partners to understand the policy impacts their reporting has achieved and organizational revenue mix as other proxies for progress. Each is a helpful metric, and we are trying to consider them together to inform our work.
For this post, however, we are highlighting a few organizations and initiatives modeling ways of working that we hope will become the norm in a more inclusive civic information ecosystem. In the meantime, we are grateful for our partners’ perseverance and admire their resilience.
Following is some information about a selection of organizations the Foundation has supported to advance each goal. We encourage you to learn more about them to understand why they were compelling partners for our work.
Broaden and Deepen Reporting
A nonprofit news outlet that is reimagining immigration journalism for a more just and equitable future
The Promise, the true story of one man’s asylum journey from Syria to Chicago.
The Promise, a new nonfiction comic by The Artist Jon Brown, @sarahanneconway and @AVHndz. Years in the making, this comic shares the story of Abu Omar, a young man who deserts the army in Syria and eventually makes his way to Chicago. @IWMF https://t.co/lJUTxiITfU pic.twitter.com/Jwc3k8YGrI— Borderless Magazine (@Borderless_Mag) December 11, 2019
Our interest: For a region that is about a fifth foreign-born, the quantity and depth of reporting on immigrants, their communities, and their experience in Chicago, and the policies that affect their lives are significantly undercovered. Borderless is bringing new original reporting, partnering with outlets such as the Chicago Reader, to disseminate those stories, and experimenting with new forms of journalistic communication — as exemplified in The Promise — to engage and educate a broader audience.
Founded on the heels of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, The Chicago Reporter confronts racial and economic inequality, using the power of investigative journalism
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx turned away more than 5,000 cases her predecessor would have pursued mainly by declining to prosecute low-level shoplifting & drug offenses, an analysis produced in partnership with @MarshallProj and @puddingviz finds. https://t.co/qbISwHvXn3— The Chicago Reporter (@ChicagoReporter) October 30, 2019
Recent Project of note: "The Kim Foxx effect: how prosecutions have changed in Cook County"
Our interest: Investigative journalism can instigate sweeping policy changes by exposing major flaws in our public institutions. Such reporting has the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for people of color, who make up about half the region’s population, if the problems explored are rooted in their experience and the challenges they face. And a collaborative reporting project, such as the story about Kim Foxx profiled above, has the potential to reach even more people and achieve broader impact.
We are also excited about…
The Better Government Association, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Chicago Public Media, City Bureau, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica Illinois, Public Media Institute, and South Side Weekly — important partners aligned with our goal of filling critical civic information gaps in our region.
Enhance Collaboration and Community Engagement
A collaboration between the Better Government Association, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE, facilitated by the Institute for Nonprofit News, to examine the first year of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration.
Our interest: We believe collaborations unlock new opportunities for journalism. This collaboration is harnessing complementary subject matter expertise, audiences, styles, and more to bring more transparency and ensure greater accountability in local government. Nonprofit and for-profit outlets are partnering on a long-term project that is piloting a new way of working and already resulting in fascinating stories. Stories published to date include:
- The Daily Line: “At 6-month mark, Lightfoot’s effort to scale back aldermanic prerogative a work in progress”
- Better Government Association: “Lightfoot’s Actions on Environmental Campaign Promises Are Off to a Slow Start”
- Chalkbeat: “Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to spend more money on students in need. Could change be imminent?”
Follow #LensOnLightfoot on Twitter to stay up to date on forthcoming stories.
Strengthening the connections between journalists and the communities they cover
The #PPPC19 brings together journalists, civic-engagement practitioners, and community storytellers to work on a shared goal: strengthening the connections between news organizations and the people they cover to produce better journalism. https://t.co/ZFfe874Oa2 pic.twitter.com/FjeeR0wE98— Illinois Humanities (@ILhumanities) October 24, 2019
Our interest: Annually, Illinois Humanities convenes outlets from across the country to support their work engaging residents in their communities. Driven by an understanding that journalism can best achieve its civic mission if it connects with residents at multiple points in the reporting process, the conference offers journalists peer learning and networking opportunities so they can become increasingly fluent in community engagement.
Invest in Human Capital
The purpose of the NABJ-Chicago is to bring together Chicago-area African-American journalists dedicated to truth and excellence in newsgathering and reporting, and equality in the media industry
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists is the leading organization for Latinos in the media. It is dedicated to the recognition and professional advancement of Hispanics in the news industry, plus excellence in coverage of the entire Latino community
Our interest: Representation of people of color in media remains dismally low. McCormick joined several other foundations committed to furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion in calling for newsrooms to create more inclusive environments. McCormick supports these efforts in Chicago, through trainings and direct engagement with newsroom leaders, but we also recognize the importance of creating independent networks of support for journalists of color. The National Associations of Black and Hispanic Journalists have a long-standing commitment to building these networks of support and fostering a diverse talent pipeline for newsrooms, but they require additional capacity to meet the needs of individual journalists in an era of increasingly constrained resources and mounting pressures. Supporting these chapters’ work in Chicago is one step towards building newsrooms that reflect the region’s racial and ethnic diversity.
Defend Press Freedom
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides pro bono legal representation, amicus curiae support, and other legal resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists
Our interest: Watch this video; it presents a compelling case for caring about press freedom. In 2019, RCFP continued its active defense of the press, supporting hundreds of journalists and newsrooms when their abilities to access and report information was threatened. This video was of particular interest to us last year as it was part of a coordinated, stepped-up effort to engage the public in defending the press. RCFP chaired a new #ProtectPressFreedom campaign to improve how the press and its partners communicate with the public to explain the importance of an independent press. The new ProtectPressFreedom.org website offers helpful information on the history of press freedom in the U.S., describes types of threats, and helps individuals understand how they can help defend the press.
Founded in 1974, the Student Press Law Center is an independent, non-partisan 501c(3) which works to promote, support and defend the First Amendment and press freedom rights of high school and college journalists and their advisers.
"The district did not really understand what our rights are as journalists." High school journalists in Illinois say censorship by their school district broke state law. https://t.co/7yAnj7Q7I5— Student Press Law Center (@SPLC) November 12, 2019
Student voice is at risk in our country. Censorship, intimidation, and the threat of other actions put the independence of student journalists especially at risk compared to their professional counterparts. The recent case of a Naperville, IL student paper underscores how close and current this risk is. Thankfully, SPLC offers resources to support these newsrooms and their advisers as they report on their communities.