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Local News vs. “Alternative Facts”: Backing nonprofit journalism as for-profit media shrinks

WNYC reporter Sarah Gonzalez interviews New Yorkers in lower Manhattan. A Trust grant underwrites coverage of civic issues by New York Public Radio. Photo by Ari Mintz for The Trust
April 2017 Newsletter

These days, some of the most pressing news is about the news business itself.  The New York Times has drastically cut its daily metropolitan coverage. Last year, the Wall Street Journal folded its Greater New York Section. And the tabloids recently closed bureaus in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn.

All this comes at a time when the City is struggling with record numbers of homeless families, when Albany is beset by political scandals, and the country is reeling from “alternative facts.”  

A foundation like The New York Community Trust can make a difference by funding the kind of in-depth civic affairs journalism that costs money and rarely brings in advertising revenue. 

In the past five years, we have spent more than $1 million supporting nonprofit media ventures that investigate important, but not sexy, subjects—such as the effects of rezoning on neighborhood life.

Now we’re giving $100,000 to New York Public Radio to bolster reporting on local issues through WNYC/93.5 FM, which attracts 2.4 million listeners each week in the metropolitan area, not counting the millions who listen online or via podcasts all over the world. 

“Our newsroom provides information that engaged citizens need,” says Jim Schachter, vice president for news at WNYC and a former Times editor. “Support from The Trust helps us pursue crucial reporting on issues like race relations, access to political power, and the many changes in daily life with the advent of the Trump Administration.”

This follows Trust support of other WNYC projects, including a popular podcast, “There Goes the Neighborhood,” which chronicled the effects of gentrification in Brooklyn.

Local coverage is especially important with municipal elections in 2017 and statewide and Congressional elections in 2018.

In helping defend local news at a time when the marketplace is eviscerating for-profit media, The Trust is part of a national trend, says Alberto Ibargüen, former executive vice president of Newsday and former board member of The Trust. 

“Accurate news and information are basic needs in a democracy,” says Ibargüen, now president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “Community foundations are uniquely positioned to support these news and information projects.” 

Amplifying Voices Across New York 

The Trust is committed to increasing coverage of issues that affect New York neighborhoods, from housing to elections. Some examples:

  • Brooklyn Movement Center used our $180,000 over three years to expand its online coverage of gentrification and other topics affecting people of color. Its media production project, Brooklyn Deep, trained primarily African-American residents to produce blogs, podcasts, and other programs.
  • City Limits used $180,000 over four years for investigative coverage of the City’s affordable housing crisis and civic issues in the Bronx. 
  • The New School’s Feet in Two Worlds used $185,000 over two years to help immigrant journalists cover elections, housing, education, and other issues affecting immigrant communities. The program submits articles to local and global publications. Participants have produced stories for The New York Times, National Public Radio, and other media. 
  • CUNY Graduate School of Journalism used $70,000 over two years to report on fraudulent financial and legal services targeting immigrant communities. The Trust also funded the school’s Urban Investigative Reporting Grants for journalists covering civic and social issues.

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