By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A local news activist lashes out at big funders: ‘Psst! Look under your seat!’

An actual news desert. Photo (cc) 2008 by Stefano Brivio.

As nonprofit news becomes an increasingly important part of community journalism, there’s a rift developing between large foundations and small publishers who say that they’re being left behind. Sophie Culpepper wrote about this recently for Nieman Lab, and a new organization called the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets has been founded to represent those overlooked media outlets.

The most recent development on this front is a scorching piece at Local News Blues by Alice Dreger, an author, historian and a founder and former publisher of East Lansing Info. Dreger takes note of the recent Knight Media Forum, whose organizers she describes as being more interested in developing software tools of dubious merit than in providing operating funds to hyperlocal publishers. She writes:

The KMF has always been a towel-slapping, country club locker room with waiters coming by to offer bacon-wrapped shrimp, but this year was particularly troubling. As local news publishers are desperately trying to keep from laying off staff and closing up shop, representatives of the Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and their joint Press Forward venture got up on stage to assure the world they’re going to save us.

“We are in it with you, and together we will crack the code of sustainability,” said Maribel Pérez Wadsworth, the president of the Knight Foundation. You know, the Knight Foundation — the behemoth sitting comfortably on a multi-billion-dollar endowment.

Psst, Maribel! Look under your seat!

She also quotes Nancy West of InDepthNH as saying that Knight seems more interested in artificial intelligence than in paying for news. West, a past guest on our podcast, “What Works,” promptly republished Dreger’s piece. That led to a response from John Palfrey, the president of the MacArthur Foundation, which is the lead foundation in Press Forward. “Thanks for the tag and the feedback,” he wrote on Twitter/X. “I know the team will bear these critiques in mind as grantmaking ramps up.”

The bottom line is that there isn’t enough national money for everyone. Dreger notes that Press Forward has decided to make a priority of funding projects that serve communities of color, which I think makes a lot of sense, even if that leaves other projects behind. Ultimately, nonprofit news outlets have to educate philanthropic organizations in their own backyards that quality journalism is as worthy of funding as youth programs and the arts. And yes, I realize that’s easier to do in some places than in others.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Some good news from Rhode Island on the local news front


How a former Iowa newspaper’s name was hijacked to produce AI-generated clickbait


  1. Paul Bass

    I like the response from Palfrey. Because I have found this to be an interesting ongoing issue with a lot that people can contribute from both the “upstairs” and “downstairs” perspectives: National funders can’t forever fund each local site’s reporting; there are too many sites. Initial funding for reporting and editing (as opposed to overhead/structural revenue and marketing efforts) for a new site or a local site’s new project can help create the basis on which long-term local philanthropic support or new revenue streams be built. There’s also a good debate about whether reporting and editing can actually constitute the marketing/audience development work that national funders often prefer to fund as separate bureaucratic/specialized positions — basically whether the early-web belief that content creates the value and market remains true. And this question about the optimal uses of AI versus shoe-leather reporting will be revisited often in coming years, I think.

    • Thanks, Paul–yes a real challenge and one we are actively grappling with as we get started with Press Forward.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén