Groups say philanthropists trying to boost local news shouldn't leave minorities behind

NEW YORK (AP) — Some organizations representing minority journalists say they're worried that outlets reporting on their communities will be left behind in a recently-announced $500 million initiative aimed at boosting the struggling local news industry.

They urged that Press Forward Initiative, a group of 20 funders led by the Knight and MacArthur Foundations, to more explicitly commit to funding these outlets, particularly those run by minorities.

“They're sort of skirting around it,” said Martin Reynolds, co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, on Tuesday.

In announcing the $500 million pledge two weeks ago, the funders said they wanted to “move resources to newsrooms and organizations that are improving diversity of experience and thought,” as well as into underserved communities.

“We deeply value diversity within news ecosystems, recognizing that it is required for the optimal functioning of democracy,” said Jim Brady, the Knight Foundation's vice president of journalism. “Knight's grantmaking has shown that commitment to diversity, which will absolutely continue with Press Forward.”

Reynolds pointed to research showing that philanthropists tended to favor organizations run by whites for funding, more than minorities, and are more apt to put restrictions on the use of grants given to non-whites.

He said he's also concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June striking down affirmative action in college admissions will make funders less willing to make racial equity a priority in decisions about where to spend.

A recent survey by the National Trust for Local News found that 53% of leaders at community media outlets that serve specific racial or ethnic communities said their organizations were likely to go out of business within five years based on how things were going for them financially.

The letter to Press Forward sent on Tuesday was signed by the Asian American Journalists Association, the Indigenous Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Local news in the U.S. has been decimated over the past two decades by a collapse in advertising, leading many newspapers to close or operate in a “ghost” state. Some philanthropies have stepped up in recent years to try and fill the gaps.

The organizations that spoke out on Tuesday said they “didn't hesitate to applaud” when the latest funding initiative was announced, and pleased that “improving diversity of experience and thought” was set as part of the mission.

“As this initiative unfolds and decisions are made about where support is directed, we want to be clear: racial and ethnic diversity, equity and belonging must be among the pillars of its foundation,” the letter said.