Could “prying open the vault” to small business loans help save local news?

NIEMAN LAB—August 16, 2023—A foundation that has invested millions in local journalism in New York starts a new report with a warning. More than half of American daily news outlets are controlled by hedge funds and private equity firms, which seem hellbent on more painful cost-cutting. The new ecosystem of local outlets that has emerged to fill in the gaps, meanwhile, urgently needs financial resources (cash!) to strengthen business models and grow audiences.

Over the past 12 years, the Charles H. Revson Foundation — originally established by the founder of Revlon, Inc. — has spent $15 million to support local journalism in New York. Those funds have helped launch The City, supported Chalkbeat’s New York bureau, and funded reporting on housing and homelessness at City Limits. When it comes to providing enough resources for a thriving local news industry, though, the foundation believes “philanthropy cannot, and will not, do it on its own.”

In addition to direct funding, the Revson Foundation has helped research and develop a local law requiring city agencies to spend at least 50% of their advertising budgets in community media outlets. Since the bill went into effect in 2020, New York City has bought roughly $48 million in advertising from more than 250 local news outlets. In the first year alone, 50 local newsrooms received advertising from the city for the first time ever. The city of Chicago committed to a similar initiative in 2022.

Inspired by the success of that Advertising Boost Initiative, the foundation has a new report out on financing for local news orgs — and how local and state governments, private financial institutions, and philanthropy could help to make loans and credit programs more accessible.

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