It was an admittedly awkward metaphor for Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen.
In his opening address, the baseball and “real” football fan relayed an American football sentiment the near bouncy VP of Journalism Jim Brady had been enthusiastically sharing.
“It feels like we’re not just playing defense anymore, but we’re finally on offense.”
It was a fitting reference for the three threads that ran through the first in-person Knight Media Forum since 2020. For an event that gathers corporate and mainstream, nonprofit and community media and related technologists (with a heavy dose of librarians and journalism educators — two of Knight's other pillars), this thought leadership event centers around Knight's mission to “inform engaged communities.”
Throughout, Ibargüen and Brady hit the right notes and quarterbacked a program that set a post-COVID agenda for the next round of investments and innovation in the local media and journalism space.
The first thread, with the most hints dropped from the stage, was a brewing surge of new and incremental philanthropic investment in local media and journalism from foundations like Knight, MacArthur, Ford and others. The increments being mentioned are significant. The target date for a bigger announcement is June, so stay tuned.
The second thread was the top conversation starter at the event. In a well-timed release just ahead of this year’s Forum, the Roadmap for Local News was background buzz (and future NiemanReports dueling posts) many brought to the event, which indeed brought a twinkle to the eye of co-author and City Bureau co-founder Darryl Holliday.
An initiative partially funded by the same foundations, Lensfest Executive Director and CEO Jim Friedlich stated, “the roadmap frames the challenge and opportunity less as saving local news than reinventing and revitalizing civic information in service of communities.”
No stranger to the evolving challenges in local media, renowned media analyst and local Santa Cruz publisher Ken Doctor warned of road metaphors. In his NiemanReports response, he stated that it “misses so many places” — especially the rest of local coverage (sports and restaurant reviews, for instance) and the role of for-profit media (a sentiment shared by Rebuild Local News Coalition Founder Steve Waldman). On the day the Forum opened, Doctor’s LookOut Santa Cruz and five other local news organizations announced the Alliance for Sustainable Local News with one key, self-stated differentiator in its goals. “We are business-driven, believing sustainable local news of scale must establish itself largely on earned revenue,” the group announced in its press release.
Finally, the ever-equitable Pivot Fund Founder Tracie Powell raised her concerns in her response, calling for “a diversity of lived experiences and thought” in the evolution of the roadmap so we’re not making “the same mistake the industry as a whole continues to make.”
The third and final thread was a little more muted but true to the diverse but related nature of the Knight Foundation. Clearly, a significant part of local media’s future success sits outside local media itself and instead rests on its connections to the community.
To name just two highlights in this area, CivicLex offered a breakout session on how a nonprofit builds healthy civics through education, relationship building and media. And the Reporters Committee for the Free Press and Lawyers for Reporters discussed local media legal strategies in their breakout.
It will take government, nonprofits, related professions and our local communities working together to create a new future for local media.
Heaston is an owner/operator of a local alternative and Hispanic media and leads the consultancy PioneerMedia.me, a group committed to a diverse local media ecosystem that learns from the past to improve the future.
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