J-Lab’s resources and reporting are referenced a number of times in a comprehensive report released by the Federal Communications Commission in June 2011.
In writing “The Information Needs of Communities,” Steven Waldman relies on J-Lab’s April 2010 report on the Philadelphia media ecosystem, “Exploring a Networked Journalism Collaborative in Philadelphia,” and J-Lab’s grant-funding database that has tracked upwards of $185 million in journalism grants from foundations.
Among the highlights:
J-Lab: the Institute for Interactive Journalism, a center that funds journalism innovation, studied the Philadelphia news “ecosystem” during sample weeks in 2006 and 2009. In a report on its findings, author Jan Shaffer, formerly an editor at the Inquirer, concluded that “available news about Philadelphia public affairs issues has dramatically diminished over the last three years by many measures: news hole, air time, story count, key word measurements.” She summarized interviews she did with civic leaders: “People in Philadelphia want more public affairs news than they are now able to get. They don’t think their daily newspapers are as good as the newspapers used to be. They want news that is more connected to their
In Philadelphia, a study by J-Lab: the Institute for Interactive Journalism, which funds innovative web journalism start-ups, found a plethora of new blogs, hyperlocal sites, and budding collaborations—including 260 new blogs (at least 60 with some “journalistic DNA”) and as many as 100 people working part time or
fulltime to produce news about Philadelphia. Yet despite that explosion of news “outlets,” J-Lab researchers concluded that overall, “the available news about Philadelphia public affairs issues has dramatically diminished over the last three years [from 2006 to 2009] by many measures: news hole, air time, story count, key word measurements.”
The proliferation of nonprofit local news websites—and the success of a handful of them—has led some to believe that the gap in journalism left by the contraction of newspapers will be filled quickly. But while there are some notable and exciting exceptions, nonprofit websites have not fully filled the gap. First, there is a problem of scale. The Poynter Institute estimated that cuts in traditional media constituted a $1.6 billion drop in journalism spending per year. J-Lab has estimated that foundations put a little over $180 million into local nonprofit journalism outlets since 2005. So foundations are not funding enough new journalism to replace what has been lost from traditional media.
The amount of foundation spending on local reporting and news has been growing in the last few years, though it still represents only a tiny percentage of foundation spending overall. As noted in Chapter 12, Nonprofit Websites, according to J-Lab, between January 2005 and February 2011, 272 foundations contributed more than $180 million to U.S. news and information projects—less than 0.1 percent of total
foundation spending. And that figure includes many projects that focus on national, not local journalism.
As J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer points out, given the relatively low costs for digital media start-ups, a small amount of money can go a long way. NewCastleNOW.org, Westchester New York’s News and Opinion Weekly, serves as an example of the big impact a relatively small grant can have. Three longtime community volunteers, all empty-nesters with experience in local government affairs, founded the site with a $17,000 grant from J-Lab. NewCastleNOW.org covers issues in New Castle
and the surrounding Westchester County communities, and now attracts a wide array of community funding, including advertising revenue.
Read the entire report in the window below.