Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

As legislation allowing U.S. news publishers to collectively bargain with social media platforms for publishing fees moved from the House to the Senate in December, lobbyists representing the nation’s largest news and broadcast conglomerates took the opportunity to make changes, rewriting the bill to disqualify nonprofit news organizations from its benefits and to free corporate media from strict requirements that new earnings keep workers employed.

Pairing down the already disconnected, exclusionary legislation to limit its public benefit is another recent example of how corporate media prioritizes profit over the public interest.

But the challenge isn’t profit — it’s who gets a say in how it’s used and what’s produced to make it.

That’s why Gannett’s board authorized a $100 million stock buyback in the first quarter of 2022, only to report a loss of $54 million in the second quarter and the elimination of 800 positions later that year.

It’s why newspaper unions from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette to The New York Times are striking or considering it over low pay and unfair working conditions. Because corporations are accountable to their investors and advertisers — not their workers and the communities they serve.

For years, philanthropy has been subsidizing these journalism profiteers for the lack of alternatives. But today, that’s no longer the case.

More than 1,000 nonprofit or local independent news organizations now serve hundreds of communities nationwide. Lists of them are easy to find at the Institute for Nonprofit News and LION Publishers.

Among them are organizations weaving together a new, participatory local journalism ecosystem that will become the dominant model of local news production in the next decade.

It’s time for journalism philanthropy to ditch corporate media sellouts and double-down on supporting and expanding the non-commercial journalism sector.

The Community Info Coop is just one organization helping grow that sector. Through our Info Districts program, we envision a new layer of engaged, hyperlocal public media created through local tax districts. We’re developing the service model for info districts in our local news lab, the Bloomfield Info Project. And our Just Transition program is where we host organizational democracy workshops, support union- and cooperative-led campaigns, and work to hold journalism stakeholders accountable to the pro-democratic and anti-racist values they espouse.

Organizations like mine and others are all-in on the transition to a more restorative, just media system. It’s time journalism funders got on board.

Simon Galperin is director of the Community Info Coop and a 2022 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.

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