Local News in America is Dying. Charity Might Save It

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

BLOOMBERG —  April 25, 2019 — The City, a website covering local news in America’s biggest metropolis, debuted this month with a bank account some of its nonprofit peers could only dream of.

Backed by almost $10 million from philanthropies and individuals, the New York-based news organization has more than double the cash that nonprofit-pioneer the Texas Tribune had when it started 10 years ago.

Still, the City’s publisher is taking nothing for granted. A former investment banker, John Wotowicz is constantly looking for additional sources of funding. He’s planning to spend about $4 million this year, much of it on his 18 reporters. If the donations stop flowing, the City will run out of money by 2022.

“We have 2 ½ years of runway in the bank,” Wotowicz said recently in the City’s Manhattan newsroom. “That’s not 25 years of funding. Fundraising will continue to be a terrifically important part of our business.”

Such is life in nonprofit news—and perhaps a sign of things to come for American journalism in general—where the future is never guaranteed and the hustle for donors never stops. The City is one of about 200 nonprofit newsrooms nationwide whose 2,200 journalists try to make a living by greening so-called news deserts—large swaths of the country that have been left uncovered as one local paper after another dies.

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