Image by Joe Amditis.

How The Objective and Community Info Coop raised $20,000 to launch a democracy beat

Simon Galperin
Center for Cooperative Media
6 min readJul 24

Journalism has a democracy problem. Even The Washington Post, with its tagline, “Democracy dies in darkness, prohibits reporters who are D.C. residents from advocating for democratic representation for themselves in Congress.

More than 600,000 people, including Post employees, live without equitable representation in the nation’s capital. But one of the nation’s founding rallying cries, “No taxation without representation,” might get you a demerit in the newsroom.

We’re told journalism is essential for democracy. But democracy is also essential to journalism. That’s why journalists and newsrooms can do more to bolster the democratic freedoms and institutions they rely on by working to understand and normalize democratic participation in all forms.

At the Community Info Coop, we use policy, organizing, and practice to make journalism more representative of the people it serves — and that includes helping journalists understand their role as actors and organizers within a democracy.

In 2022, the Coop joined U.S. Democracy Day with an idea: organize a seed fund for a democracy beat at The Objective, a nonprofit watchdog newsroom examining systems of power and inequity in journalism.

Fast forward to 2023, and The Objective has its first two part-time staff covering the media democracy beat with recent stories, such as:

The Objective co-founder Gabe Schneider and I recently shared our experience with organizing a democracy beat at a webinar hosted by U.S. Democracy Day. Here are four things we learned.

Watch the full Democracy Beat webinar from June 2023.

Collectively fundraising for a democracy beat

As part of our June 2022 seed funding proposal, the Community Info Coop proposed organizing a small, pooled fund to support a democracy beat at The Objective.

Together, the organizations developed a one-page sponsorship proposal, and the Community Info Coop committed $3,000 to seed the fund. We decided to approach other funders with sponsorship requests — not grant inquiries — to raise small sums from marketing budgets that can be released without a lengthy board approval process.

Every potential sponsor we approached agreed to participate. Contributions ranged from $800 to $5,000. One webinar attendee asked if funders expected a sponsor message to appear alongside the project’s content.

“We did put their logos on the project page, and we…[mentioned] them in our language, but I don’t think there were any explicitly outlined expectations,” Schneider said. “A lot of them are committed to the idea generally of racial equity and democracy coverage. So it was an easy sell for them.”

The total sponsor pool reached $15,000 with support from:

  • Community Info Coop
  • Democracy Fund
  • Democracy SOS
  • Indiegraf
  • Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Producing at Mizzou
  • Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy
  • U.S. Democracy Day

Indiegraf, The Objective’s web and audience development provider, ran an audience revenue campaign in September 2023 to grow the initial sponsor pool.

By the end of the campaign, the Community Info Coop’s $3,000 investment turned into $20,000 for The Objective, who used it to hire two democracy correspondents, their first part-time staff, in February 2023.

Hiring for a democracy beat

Establishing a democracy beat is about more than just fundraising. Newsrooms should first define democracy and examine how their organization’s practices align with their values.

Those conversations have happened at The Objective since its inception as a collective reporting on issues facing historically marginalized communities in media. That collaborative culture extended to The Objective’s democracy correspondent applicants.

“We had … our own definition of … democracy but giving [applicants] the space to articulate to us how they think about democracy and the ways in which they want to cover the beat…gave us the ability to really understand how they thought about democracy in terms of race, power, and U.S. [media] infrastructure,’ Schneider said.

Ultimately, The Objective received 20 applications for the position. “We ended up choosing two democracy correspondents instead of one [because we had a lot of extremely talented candidates].”

Making a democracy beat resonate

One webinar attendee called out the “doom spiral” of traditional coverage of government and democratic institutions, wondering what newsrooms could do to empower people. Another asked what newsrooms can do if their usual content isn’t resonating.

In both cases, the answer is the same: Break free from traditional narratives by finding out what audiences need. Then, provide solutions.

“The structure of traditional journalism isn’t [about being in community or organizing with your community], right?” Schneider said. “When you’re just putting out traditional web or print stories, and nobody’s engaging with it, I think that’s a fair reason.”

Community Info Coop advises newsrooms adopt a reparative and needs-based approach to journalism in order to overcome those challenges.

Traditionally, news media has relied on cycles of destruction for its content. Journalists can shine a light on wrongdoing and provide some relief to victims, but the underlying inequality usually remains unchanged. And so, this cycle continues, with newsrooms becoming inadvertently reliant on the ongoing exploitation of underserved and underrepresented communities.

According to Schneider, the first step to overcoming this reliance is to meet people where they are in the community and in their knowledge of the topic.

“I think you really need to ask them, ‘What don’t you understand? What is it you want?’” said Schneider. “Because it might not be, ‘How do I engage on this voting question?’ It might be something like…‘Who do I need to seek out in the city to interact with my landlord to make sure things are fixed and the pipes aren’t leaking?’”

Expanding the boundaries of democracy

While some newsrooms may closely tie democracy to voting on Election Day, The Objective’s example shows that reporting on democratic processes can include coverage of whether institutions are responding to the needs of residents, as well as content that actively helps people hold all kinds of power accountable, not just elected officials.

Of course, topics can vary. Government isn’t the only thing that can function more democratically — workplace, housing, food access, and business or our own industry are all topics to examine through the lens of democracy.

Co-creating your editorial agenda with your community, no matter the topic, ensures your reporting is more relevant. It builds faith in the service your newsroom provides and habituates people to expect accountability and representation from other institutions in their lives. It’s a democratic process with layers of impact.

Add a solutions-oriented lens to this needs-based reporting, and you’ve created a generative cycle of journalism where people ask questions, have them answered, and learn practical ways to make their institutions more responsive or improve their quality of life.

Journalism must begin to play a more constructive role in preserving and expanding democracy in the U.S. Launching a democracy beat at your newsroom is one way for your organization to begin exploring its role in that project.

🗳️ Contact the Democracy Day organizing team!

Email, sign up via Airtable here, or check out the Democracy Day project page to learn more about what pro-democracy reporting looks like in practice.

Simon Galperin is the director of the Community Info Coop. He can be reached via email at and on Twitter at @thensim0nsaid.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with operational and project funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, NJ Civic Information Consortium, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation. For more information, visit



Simon Galperin
Center for Cooperative Media

Director at the Community Info Coop. Working on democratizing journalism, media, and technology.