By Tom Gougeon and JB Holston
Today we have the pleasure of announcing a major new commitment to foster trustworthy, sustainable local journalism serving all Coloradans.
The Colorado Media Project began in 2018 as a short-term, deep dive exploration of troubling trends: deep cuts at traditional news media outlets, challenges faced by the state’s digital start-ups, and unmet local news and information needs for Coloradans. Now the Colorado Media Project will continue as an ongoing advocate for our state’s public-service news organizations, rallying community support and resources to navigate an uncharted future, together.
The Gates Family Foundation will devote $1.125 million over three years to the project. This investment is augmented by a $100,000 contribution and technical support from the Democracy Fund, which supports systemic efforts to strengthen local news ecosystems nationwide. And the University of Denver’s Project X-ITE will continue to provide a nonprofit home to the project, as well as in-kind faculty and administrative support. Our goal is to raise $2.5 million over three years, and we’re more than halfway there.
We encourage other philanthropists, business and civic leaders, and concerned citizens to join us in this ecosystem-building work — while also doubling down on support for local news reporting and production. In fact, the primary measure of the Colorado Media Project’s success will be an increase in the amount, quality, relevance, sustainability, and accessibility of our state’s sources of original local journalism, community news, and information.
We agree with Josh Stearns, Director of the Public Square program for the Democracy Fund, that local news is a building block for rebuilding trust. He has written: “The challenge we face is that while local news holds some of the greatest promise for renewing the social contract between journalists and the public, it also faces the greatest threats. The economic and technological challenges buffeting local news are profound. If we are concerned about trust we also have to be concerned about sustainability and helping rebuild the infrastructure for local news around the country.”
Based on recommendations from research, audience surveys, and digital prototypes shared last fall, the Colorado Media Project’s next phase of work will focus on fostering innovation, sustainability, and collaboration among local media organizations – and advocacy for broader community support of local public service journalism.
We’re making this commitment as Coloradans because we believe deeply that a diverse, strong network of local news and information sources is vitally important in the functioning of our state’s civic life. We’re not just devoting financial resources, but also our time and energy to help our vibrant, home-grown digital startups and public service media organizations survive and thrive.
Our executive committee (which also includes John Huggins and Melissa Davis) is now joined by a newly appointed local advisory committee of prominent community leaders, philanthropists, business experts, and journalists, all of whom share our commitment to building a strong and sustainable local news ecosystem. We’ll also continue to enlist pro-bono or low-cost technical help from local business and digital experts, partner with national and statewide journalism organizations to bring more resources and implementation support to local outlets, and connect Colorado journalists to high-quality training opportunities, conferences, and each other. You can see our growing list of national partners here.
It’s important to note that this new investment from the Gates Family Foundation will not replace the Gates Family Foundation’s direct grants to local news organizations, which currently include Rocky Mountain Public Media, Colorado Public Radio, Chalkbeat Colorado, High Country News, Streetsblog Denver, and KSJD Community Radio in Cortez. We believe investment in the Colorado Media Project will augment these commitments, by providing both a forum and support for individual outlets to navigate the rapidly-changing media environment together, with the interests of Colorado communities front and center.
How will we do this? Moving forward, the Colorado Media Project’s work will focus on four areas: innovation, sustainability, collaboration, and advocacy for local news. Stay tuned in the coming weeks and months for announcements on our activities, which will include:
Support and technical assistance for business innovation, such as creating business plans, developing membership, building audience, and other ways to build sustainability.
Support for original reporting that leverages collaboration and technology to increase impact and capacity for quality journalism.
Collaborations with local universities to develop the next generation of innovative journalism talent, bring new techniques to news gathering, identify reporting needs, test business models, partner on data analysis, and more.
Engagement with national efforts to bolster local journalism on behalf of local news organizations and the public in Colorado.
Issue-focused community conversations across the state, in partnership with local newsrooms and community organizations, to build a constituency for local news and demonstrate independent journalism’s continued relevance in our public square.
Joining the Colorado Media Project as acting director is Nancy Watzman, resident of Denver for two decades. She works at the cusp of technology and journalism with such nonprofit organizations as the Internet Archive, the Sunlight Foundation, and the Center for Public Integrity. Her recent work includes innovative projects using open source technology to collect Facebook and television political ads, and other information used for reporting by The New York Times, ProPublica, FiveThirtyEight.com, and more. She advises the Democracy Fund, and is outreach editor for the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, which has spent the past year exploring how to improve trust in democracy and will be releasing a final report and recommendations in February 2019. One of the major focuses of the commission is the need to strengthen local journalism nationwide.
Alan Gottlieb (longtime Denver journalist and co-founder of the national news organization Chalkbeat), Andrew Elliman (MBA, blogger, and marketing guru), and Melissa Davis (former journalist, fundraiser, and strategic communications VP at Gates) will continue to support the project day-to-day. You can read more about each of our project team members here.
Bolstered by the many talented individuals and partner organizations involved, the Colorado Media Project will operate with a lean and nimble structure to ensure that most resources are devoted to working with public-service journalism outlets and on behalf of Colorado community members.