Now is a particularly dangerous time to be misinformed. Yet, increasingly, many Americans lack access to reliable, high-quality journalism that reflects their lived experiences and gives them the crucial information they need to act in their own interest.

Here at Dot Connector Studio, we think this is a pressing civic emergency—one that only worsens the many urgent crises our country is facing. That’s why, with the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice raging, we’ve spent the last several months working on projects designed to help secure news for all.

Reconstructing journalism to make it more equitable

Since 2018, we’ve worked with Farai Chideya, who heads up the journalism program at the Ford Foundation, to research innovative and evidence-backed approaches to assuring equity in newsrooms. This week, we released a trio of related reports:

  • Co-authored by Dot Connector Studio’s Katie Donnelly and Jessica Clark, Reconstructing American News outlines what those who fund journalism and helm newsrooms can do to create a more inclusive and sustainable media industry. The analysis ties together two years of internal research and recent interviews with news leaders, from entrepreneurs executives of large nonprofit newsrooms, to understand how these innovators are driving change and surviving the impacts of the pandemic. It investigates overlapping topics of equity in news, changing journalism business models in a period of rapid disruption, and responsive philanthropic strategies to address the many intersecting problems that currently exist in the industry.
  • Conducted by Transform Finance, Investing in Equitable News and Media Projects analyzes the types of financial support needed to create a truly equitable media landscape. Based on data, reflections and ideas from grantmakers, private investors, and media entrepreneurs collected in late 2019, it offers an in-depth look at the historic underinvestment in equitable media and how to determine the path forward.
  • Co-authored by Ariel Skeath, a master of public policy candidate, and Lisa Macpherson, a fellow of the Advanced Leadership Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Gender Equity in the News Media takes a deep dive into gender inequity in the current media landscape. They wrote this paper in 2019, more than a year into the explosion of the #MeToo movement, to identify remedies for addressing gender inequity in newsrooms as it relates to abuse and the less visible but still corrosive effects of discrimination and bias.

The reports are already generating thoughtful responses from news leaders. Join the conversation on Twitter: #News4All

Calling on even more funders to step up

Over the past several years, we have worked with the Democracy Fund’s Public Square Program to develop system-level strategies for bolstering news and making sure citizens are engaging with it. This year, we’ve helped them re-launch their Engaged Journalism Lab with a focus on equity in journalism.

Program Associate Lea Trusty explains:

When we talk about equity in journalism, we mean:

  • investing in newsrooms led by and serving historically marginalized groups;
  • supporting organizations working to shift industry culture and leadership; and
  • closing historic resource gaps that philanthropy has helped to perpetuate.

For news to be trusted and responsible, it must incorporate a diverse array of community voices, particularly those that have been ignored or harmed by storytelling and stereotyping in media. Only then will historically marginalized communities be able to count on news and support it as a vital civic asset. This means shifting resources, access, and leadership to, and embracing the power of these groups.

Highlighting the bright spots for local news

Fighting for news equity also includes finding ways to replace the trusted news sources that have gone out of business in hundreds of communities across the country.

While the prognosis for local news business models is grim, it’s not all bad news: With support from the Knight Foundation, our associate Mark Glaser has been mapping and reporting on “civic bright spots”—i.e. “areas around the country where different models of collaborative and solutions-oriented journalism are emerging, and putting their focus on COVID-19 coverage.”

“The challenges and triumphs of these bright spots — and the distinct ‘power sources’ they are relying on — suggest that the path forward for local news, although bumpy, may go through new territories,” he writes.

Explore the interactive map — which Dot Connector Studio produced in partnership with Hannah Eaves of Multiply Bureau — and read more of Glaser’s reporting on strengthening local news.