Q&A: Allison Levine on responding to Delaware community members asking for more collaborative journalism

Will Fischer
Center for Cooperative Media
8 min readMar 5, 2024


Allison Levine is CEO of the Local Journalism Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening local news and information in Delaware. Levine’s work consists of the Delaware Journalism Collaborative, as well as Spotlight Delaware, a new journalism outlet that officially launched on March 1 to fill gaps in Delaware’s local news ecosystem.

We caught up with Levine to hear how the Local Journalism Initiative thinks about collaboration and why her background in journalism, communications, and philanthropy makes her well-suited to help strengthen local news in Delaware.

WF: How did you get involved in journalism?

AL: When I was 10 years old at Summers Elementary School in Lake City, Florida, I joined the school paper. Even from that age, I really wanted to make sure the truth was known, tell stories, and help people understand each other. I ended up going to journalism school at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and became a reporter after that in Massachusetts and then Delaware. I was a reporter for about four years before I moved into communications for the Delaware state government.

Then I went to the Delaware Community Foundation, where I was the vice president for marketing and communications. I started looking at what was happening to local news and information systems across the country, including in Delaware, and it wasn’t great. When I had been working at The News Journal in Delaware in the late 1990s, there were more than 110 reporters and editors — now there are fewer than 30. It’s not any fault of those reporters and editors. We all know it has been caused by changes to the industry, economy, and the way people consume news and information. It made me want to do something. I started looking around the country at what other people were doing, such as trying different collaborative and nonprofit models.

WF: How did that eventually lead to launching the Local Journalism Initiative in Delaware?

AL: My late husband was the editorial page editor at The News Journal and I was a little bit cautious about what I was doing while he was in that leadership role. So I was just working behind the scenes to try and strengthen the local news ecosystem. But he passed away in 2017 and it was a big life change for my family and for me. We took a couple of years to regroup, and then I realized I had a real opportunity to do something great for Delaware and I eventually redoubled my efforts and worked on it more.

I was hoping to get the Delaware Community Foundation to make it one of its big focus areas because I do believe that community foundations should be focused on strengthening local news ecosystems. The foundation gave me a fiscal sponsorship, essentially lending me its 501c3, and helped me raise some money to do a statewide ecosystem assessment. I did that with support from Fiona Morgan and Outlier Media. Around the same time, I was realizing that this work I was doing was going to get bigger and bigger. So I filed for our own 501c3 and we created the Local Journalism Initiative. My last day at the Delaware Community Foundation was January 12 and now I have taken on the full-time role of CEO for the Local Journalism Initiative. We run an internship program, the Delaware Journalism Collaborative, and the website for Spotlight Delaware just officially launched on March 1.

WF: What did you learn from the ecosystem assessment and how did it inform the launch of Spotlight Delaware?

AL: We learned what Delawareans want and need in terms of local news, and how they consume information. We published that report with a bunch of recommendations in the summer of 2022. One of the recommendations was the inspiration for Spotlight Delaware. What we heard from the community specifically is that they wanted journalists to collaborate and work together. They felt like it’s not as effective as it could be when journalists are all competing. They told us they saw a lot of opportunity, that they could get better quantity and quality of local news and information if journalists worked together. They also told us very clearly that the business model for local news wasn’t working well for our communities. They asked us if there was a way to take the money out of it — they understood terms like clickbait, and were asking, what if we take the profit motive out of it? They were telling us they were interested in a collaborative and nonprofit model. So that’s what we decided to build.

Spotlight Delaware is a collaborative nonprofit newsroom covering the impact of public policy decisions on Delawareans’ everyday lives. We’re creating new original reporting, so good-quality local news and information. We’re sharing it for free with existing newsrooms who are already serving Delaware audiences. We’re creating a network of nontraditional local news and information sources — WhatsApp chat groups, TikTok accounts, church newsletters, bulletin boards, Instagram influencers — people who are reaching the community in different ways. We’re building that network and partnering with them to think about how to give civic information to those audiences.

WF: Overall, what are some of the most exciting examples of your work so far with the Local Journalism Initiative?

AL: The Delaware Journalism Collaborative has decided to focus its work this year on providing voter information in advance of the 2024 primaries. In Delaware, the Democratic party is so strong that most political decisions tend to be made in the primaries. Our collaborative is working on creating a bilingual and multi-platform voter’s guide, as well as a debate, which will be live-streamed and have content distributed in Spanish and English. This is something that every individual participating news organization wants and needs to do for their own audiences to benefit the communities that they serve. But none of them can really do a great job of this on their own, because they don’t have the capacity. By joining together, they can all do a better job and it will benefit their individual organizations to such an extent that it’s worth their time.

With Spotlight Delaware, I was really proud of Jacob Owens’ very first story, “Ozempic spike hits state taxpayers,” about the impact of the cost of weight-loss drugs on the state budget. I like this story because it’s super clear about the impact on Delawareans, and it gives people very specific information about how to get involved and influence the government’s decisions about the related policies. It also expanded on the information the legacy local newsrooms were able to provide in their own reporting, rather than duplicating, and that made it useful for our partners to pick it up and share with their audiences too.

WF: How has your background in journalism, philanthropy, and communications shaped your current work?

AL: Where I am now is definitely a convergence of all the things I’ve had the opportunity to do over the last 20 years. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what different types of audiences are looking for, and thinking about how people receive messages and consume information in different ways. That has helped me to think about building the model differently to reach people the way they want to be reached. It’s also helped me be able to clearly communicate the need for this work to funders and community partners. Working in philanthropy, I speak funder now. That’s been helpful to understand the values and needs of funders, as well as the values and needs of journalists.

Funders and journalists don’t always understand each other’s parameters and expectations. When I was on the funder side, we were making a grant to support an intern at a news organization to cover a specific issue in the community. The day before the intern was supposed to start, the editor sent me an email and said we’ve decided that the issue wasn’t really relevant to our audience, so we’re going to have them cover different things. I had to withdraw the grant. It was such a lesson to me, that the journalists did not understand that a grant award is essentially a contract, that you have to comply with the terms of it. Somehow we had not communicated effectively on that. I’m admitting to a big time where I felt like I really messed up, but it was a great lesson — I saw that we had to speak to each other really clearly and learn how we all work.

WF: How have you seen collaborative journalism change in your career? Looking forward, what else do you think needs to happen in the future?

AL: I don’t think that I ever would have thought about collaborating with other journalists. It just wasn’t done. It was a competitive environment and it still is in a lot of ways. But I think competition is less important now because there are fewer entities competing. We don’t have many towns anymore where there are two newspapers or competing radio news stations. There isn’t really anyone to compete against. That’s helping to support some of the collaborative efforts. In Delaware, I don’t think our local news organizations really see each other as competitors anymore. They are more willing to work together and they see the situation as urgent. If we’re all going to survive, we have to do things differently.

Looking forward, I think we sometimes make the mistake of looking at the local news crisis as a supply side problem, but we should also be looking at it from the demand side, and figuring out how we can go to people where they are and where they want to be. Not everybody is going to pick up a newspaper or go to a news website. We have to look at where people actually go because they want to. For a lot of people, that’s on their phones, and it’s difficult because it’s highly fragmented. They’re not going to a single media platform to consume local news anymore. They’re going to TikTok, Discord, WhatsApp, newsletters, websites, Facebook, Instagram. We need to go where they are. We can’t expect to build it and make them come to us. We need to be building good-quality local news and information and figuring out how to get it to people where they are.

Will Fischer is a journalist covering the intersection of technology and media. He’s worked for Business Insider and New York magazine and conducted local news research for City Bureau. Follow Will on Twitter @willfisch15 or email him at willfisch15@gmail.com.

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 support an informed society in New Jersey and beyond. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, the Independence Public Media Foundation, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For more information, visit centerforcooperativemedia.org.



Will Fischer
Center for Cooperative Media

I write about collaborative journalism and local media ecosystems. Follow me on Twitter @willfisch15 or email me at willfisch15@gmail.com.