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Small nonprofit news outlets join forces to seek funding, keep local journalism alive

On their own, small local nonprofits are often overlooked by funders. Together, Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets members hope to get investments from large foundations.

Xaume Olleros/Bloomberg

PROVIDENCE — As two Rhode Island weekly newspapers folded late last month, small nonprofit news outlets in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and elsewhere across the country banded together to lobby large philanthropic foundations to invest in local and regional journalism.

The Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets, a collective of 19 news agencies and growing, formed in reaction to the accelerating disappearance of news outlets across the country — and the struggle of small nonprofits like theirs to survive.

“It’s a hurricane in this industry every week, and we’re not seeing a response [from foundations] keeping pace in this landscape,” said Joanna Detz, the co-founder and publisher of ecoRI News, an environmental news outlet in Rhode Island. “I would love to see this crisis treated as the crisis it truly is.”


On their own, small news nonprofits are often overlooked by state and national foundations. Together, the group hopes to get attention and investments from large foundations focused on boosting smaller news outlets.

“Right now, most local and regional foundations don’t fund journalism,” said Jason Pramas, the executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and one of the nonprofit alliance’s founding members. “We are hoping those that do fund journalism will put more in small outlets. That’s not the direction things are going.”

Pramas lit the spark for the collective in July 2022, when he published an essay about large funders giving to large nonprofit news organizations but not the small nonprofits struggling to fill the news deserts in their communities.

The Boston institute filled the gap in Somerville by building its own model for nonprofit donations with the Somerville Media Fund. People can donate to the fund, which equally distributes grants to nonprofit news organizations in the city.

Pramas, who is also the executive director of the Somerville Media Fund and editor of the Somerville Wire in Massachusetts, said that type of equal funding needs to exist on a national scale.


This week, a national coalition of philanthropic foundations formed an initiative to spend $500 million over the next five years to boost coverage of local news. Press Forward, which is led by the MacArthur Foundation, will include investing in local news organizations and expanding access to news in historically underserved communities and news deserts.

“We have already encouraged key players to see to it that a significant chunk of the money on offer is given directly to the smaller news outlets that make up the bulk of the nonprofit news sector in America,” Pramas said.

Still, he said he believes that small nonprofit news outlets will have to lobby Press Forward for funding, particularly for multi-year general operating grants. Otherwise, he said, there could just be a repeat of the usual pattern of major donors giving millions to large nonprofit news outlets, as well as universities to study the crisis in journalism, and little or nothing to small outlets doing the work. As members of the alliance, small nonprofit news outlets could lobby funders more effectively.

The national foundations have talked about saving journalism as part of saving democracy. Research has found a correlation between the disappearance of local news and the collapse of local voter participation, and news deserts as a breeding ground for corruption.

“The best solution for getting more journalism on the ground in the nonprofit sector is to get more journalism,” Pramas said. “Not to fund studies to study the problem of not having journalism. … The problems we are facing are the problems of capitalism.”


Members of the nonprofit alliance range from environmental-focused news, to an artist-run media collective in Boston, to small news outlets covering their towns or state government.

So far, the members include Boston Compass Newspaper, Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, Civil Eats in California, ecoRI News in Rhode Island, East Lansing Info in Michigan, East Greenwich News in Rhode Island, in New Hampshire, NancyonNorwalk in Connecticut, New Narratives, a US-based nonprofit writing about Liberia, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, The Alameda Post in California, The Daily Catch in New York’s Hudson Valley, The Lens in New Orleans, The Nevada Independent, The Shoestring in western Massachusetts, The Sierra Nevada Ally, The Sopris Sun in Colorado, and VoxPopuli in Florida.

The East Greenwich News, which has a website and 2,400 subscribers to its newsletter, runs on a $125,000 annual budget. With a website and a newsletter circulation of 13,000, ecoRI News’ revenue last year was $337,000.

With the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets, “we want to inspire other outlets out there not to be timid,” Pramas said. “We are trying to nudge the giant ships of these foundations to change course and help these outlets survive and maybe thrive.”


The landscape for local news has become dire over the last 20 years.

Last year, a report by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism that reviewed the state of local news found that the United States has lost more than a quarter of its newspapers. That amount is expected to rise to a third by 2025.

More than 2,500 newspapers disappeared before the pandemic hit. Another 360 newspapers closed between late 2019 and the end of May 2022.

Elizabeth McNamara, the editor and sole full-time reporter of East Greenwich News, said she has witnessed the difference while covering news in town.

In 2009, she’d be at the “teeny tiny town council meeting” with reporters from the East Greenwich Pendulum, the Independent, and The Providence Journal. All have had reduced staffing, and “now, I go and I’m often the only person there,” McNamara said.

And, public officials behave differently when that oversight disappears, said Detz.

“They don’t feel you watching,” she said. “With social media, politicians can reach their constituents and step over the media… there’s a feeling of impunity. We need more people shining a light, so they are held accountable to their constituents.”

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at Follow her @AmandaMilkovits.