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Knight Foundation Awards $1.2 million Grant To Maynard Institute To Help Transform American Newsrooms

MIJE Leadership Team - Evelyn Hsu and Martin Reynolds
Co-executive directors, Martin Reynolds and Evelyn Hsu

EMERYVILLE, CA — August 5, 2019 —  We have some very exciting news to report. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced $1.2 million in new funding for the Maynard Institute for us to develop an in-depth transformation program for news organizations to help them establish more equitable and inclusive workplaces.

This is a huge deal. 

It represents an emerging shift in the funding priorities on the part of philanthropies as they begin to further show, with their dollars, how important diversity, equity and inclusion are to the health of our democracy and to the Fourth Estate. 

A portion of this grant will also go to fund Maynard’s general operations and will help us add the staffing necessary to bring this initiative to fruition. Over the years Knight has been an important partner and supported many Maynard programs. But this is the first grant it has made that will include some general support, which is needed and greatly appreciated. This also represents an important and ongoing evolution on the part of foundations, which are beginning to understand the need to support basic operations of nonprofits that do work that may never earn enough revenue to sustain them. We applaud foundation grants that award general support. 

The exciting investments in local news made by Knight, Facebook and Google over the past year or so are critical as the for-profit sector, in particular, begins to migrate from an ad-based revenue model, to one that looks to subscribers as key sustainers of news gathering.

But here’s the rub. 

The vast majority of American news organizations, particularly at the local level, lack the diversity necessary to reach audiences of color. You would be surprised how little data outlets have on the audiences they could have if they approached coverage and business practices using Fault Lines as a framework. 

In many cases, diverse communities have turned away from their local outlets, instead looking to so-called ethnic media to see themselves accurately reflected. 

And while ethnic outlets often have deep relationships and are trusted by these communities, they often lack the resources to do the kind of deep-dive journalism that is necessary to hold power to account. 

We seek to help news organizations transform from within. We’ll be selecting two news organizations to pilot this program over the next 18 months. Each “Equity and Inclusion Transformation Embed” will run six months. 

One will be selected out of the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative (formerly known as Table Stakes), the other through a competitive national call-out. For-profit, independent and nonprofit news outlets will be eligible to apply. The application will be made public in late 2019.

For the Maynard Institute, this is about more than just diversity around the room, although that is vitally important. It’s about the need for journalists of color and those of diverse backgrounds to have a voice in what coverage looks like. To have the power and influence to help make real decisions about the strategy and direction of their news organizations, to have their whole selves reflected in the work they do and the roles they play.

The lens through which the world is seen cannot be viewed through one set of eyes. Our nation is diverse and the work we do, whether stories, sales, marketing, audience engagement or membership, must reflect that diversity.  

Given the racial toxicity of our national discourse, the need for newsrooms to possess exceptional levels of cultural competency could not be more acute. 

Issues that reach across the social fault lines of race, class, gender, generation, geography and sexual orientation are some of the most challenging to navigate in society, let alone our newsrooms. 

This grant will empower us to develop a program to help news outlets go from a conversation about diversity, to becoming workplaces that are equitable and inclusive in service of the very diversity they seek.

Journalism is the truth serum of a democracy. But if the public distrusts the institutions that inform it, our society’s health is in peril. Diversity is the antidote to treat distrust. This work could not be more needed and more vital at this time in our nation’s history.

It won’t be easy.

We’ll be chronicling this journey as part of the grant, so keep an eye out for how the work is progressing. On behalf of the Board of Directors and alumni of the Maynard Institute, we deeply thank the Knight Foundation for its support.

We know Dori would raise a glass of red wine, offer a wry smile and then tell us, it’s time to get to work.

Martin G. Reynolds and Evelyn Hsu
Maynard Institute co-executive directors

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

About the Maynard Institute
The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education is the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to helping the news media accurately portray all segments of society, particularly those often overlooked, such as communities of color. The media plays a pivotal role in shaping our perceptions of each other. The distorted coverage of communities of color influences public policy and the decisions we make in our personal lives. Maynard seeks to help news media achieve both a diverse staff and provide the public with the most accurate and nuanced coverage possible. For more information visit mije.org

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