Fort Worth and Tarrant County, Texas will soon have a new source for local news: a digital nonprofit news organization called the Fort Worth Report.
Publisher and CEO Chris Cobler told E&P the genesis of the Fort Worth Report started a few years ago when a coalition of civic leaders banded together after feeling there was a decline in the number of journalists and local journalism in the area.
“Research has shown where there is good local journalism, that government is held in check more…(and) people are more engaged in the community,” he said.
According to the Fort Worth Report, the coalition garnered 501(c)(3) status in 2019 for the nonprofit and commissioned research with News Revenue Hub, which affirmed the need for a local news source that would meet unfulfilled expectations of news consumers in the area.
Last year, a board of directors made up of six members was organized. It includes business leaders, entrepreneurs and retired media veterans. The coalition also received initial seed money from The Burnett Foundation. This year, after a national search, Cobler was hired as publisher and CEO. He is a longtime newspaper leader, serving at publications in Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, and Texas. Current recruitment of a diverse news staff is underway. In the near future, the nonprofit also plans to hire a managing editor and three reporters.
The Fort Worth Report aims to formerly launch this spring. It will offer deep coverage of civic issues, local government, education and culture. Cobler said that the nonprofit wants to add to the journalism already being produced in the region and be intentional about not duplicating coverage, which is why, for example, it will not report on crime or sports.
“There’s just such a need for more local journalism, and there is no need to be engaged in cutthroat competition,” he explained.
Additionally, the nonprofit hopes to collaborate with others. Cobler is already in talks with KERA (an NPR member station serving North Texas) and Texas Christian University’s school of journalism.
Going forward, the Fort Worth Report will include individual contributions and membership as well as grants from local and national foundations. Cobler also said that the organization recently became a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News and will use its digital startup playbook to generate revenue.
The response to the new nonprofit has been very positive, Cobler said. Fort Worth Report has garnered several hundred newsletter sign-ups since its soft launch in February. The nonprofit also received $16,000 in donations within two days from local journalism supporters.
Cobler said nonprofit newsrooms like the Fort Worth Report are critical because, as reported by Pew Research Center, U.S. newspapers have shed half of their employees since 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic only intensified losses for newsrooms nationwide.
“If we want to keep our democracy strong and our communities strong, we have to have more local journalism,” he said. “We’re not the only answer to that, by any means, but we are one really important answer.”