Fund nonprofit newsrooms to protect ethical governance & free and fair elections
This month has been an exciting one in American elections, with close races and high voter turnout in states like Kentucky, Virginia, and Mississippi — and thousands of local races around the country. Now that the campaigns are wrapping up and new officials will soon take office, an important question arises: who will explain to the public the choices these new leaders are making, and holding them accountable to the promises they made on the campaign trail?
Newspaper and broadcast journalists have typically played a vital watchdog role in our democracy, keeping the public informed of — and engaged with — what’s happening in statehouses, and raising red flags around ethics and campaign finance violation, wrongdoing and corruption. Unfortunately, many local news outlets have been forced to downsize or close due to a decades-long crisis in commercial news, leaving communities without the journalism they need to stay informed and hold leaders accountable — from the campaign trail, to the administration of elections, to the legislative floor.
But a wave of newsrooms built on a different model — nonprofit journalism — is rising to meet the needs of the American people. According to a new report from the Institute for Nonprofit News, since 2007, a nonprofit newsroom has opened its doors every month, and the individuals and communities they serve are responding in significant ways. Individuals and families now contribute nearly 40 percent of nonprofit newsroom revenue, showing that nonprofit news is a public service people trust, and that ultimately strengthens our democracy.
Between now and the end of 2019, the public has a profound opportunity to support local and investigative reporting across the United States, so that when new school board members, city council members, mayors, and state representatives take office next year we’ll have a stronger press ready to report from day one. Thanks to NewsMatch, a fundraising campaign powered in part by Democracy Fund, between now and December 31st, individual donations to 198 participating newsrooms in more than 44 states will be matched by a pool of national funds. Many of these newsrooms do the kind of accountability journalism our democracy needs to hold leaders accountable, inspire and drive civic engagement, and ensure free and fair elections.
What does this look like on the ground? Here are examples of nonprofit newsrooms who have worked to hold local leaders accountable to the people who elected them:
A six-month Georgia News Lab investigation unveiled a decades-old system through which Georgia’s elected tax commissioners exploit the power of their office to charge “personal fees” for collecting city taxes.
Bridge Magazine showed how in the waning hours before a new governor took office, the Michigan legislature and outgoing governor approved $100 million in pork projects primarily in areas of the state that supported those politicians. Bridge Magazine dug into the spending and found that the projects included $10 million for utility lines to real estate owned by a company friendly to the outgoing officials.
A monthslong Rivard Report audit of public financial reports revealed some stunning things about San Antonio public municipality executives, from how much they make and the bonuses they receive, to the amount they spend on work-related travel to perks like office flowers and local dinners.
Southerly showed how pipeline companies are asserting eminent domain rights to seize land from local landowners, exposing a need for local officials to craft legislation to protect their property rights.
At Eye on Ohio, a team of five people worked for ten months, gathering millions of records to show how a property tax loophole costs small business owners thousands of dollars each year.
IowaWatch showed how hard people in small towns in Iowa have to fight to support their communities as rural populations continue to decline, while state government invests more in larger cities where the population is growing.
The Connecticut Mirror revealed how local zoning boards in affluent communities erect invisible walls to block affordable housing, resulting in rich and poor households being more segregated in Connecticut than anywhere else in the country. Legislation to address this issue gained momentum after the story published.
State legislatures amassed more than 250 bills focused on immigration in 2019 that focused on hot topics like sanctuary cities and professional licensing, as well as new concerns like census questions and separating children from their parents at the border. The Investigative Reporting Workshop did an overview of all 50 states, with breakouts on driver’s licenses and in-state tuition legislation, as well as state-by-state look, to inform voters as legislation progressed.
And finally, state powerhouses like the Texas Tribune contemplated new ways to serve their readers, by asking the public to report and help them amplify any challenges or concerns Texans has with the voting process in 2019. Their effort to focus on public participation keeps the public aware of actions that the state and advocates are taking that impact the franchise of voting.
This news is critical for people’s lives. This news helps make government run better. This news can’t wait. As we look ahead to 2020, you can help make sure that nonprofit journalists all over the country have the resources they need to cover the issues that matter to you.
Go to NewsMatch.org to search for newsrooms near you, and find journalists covering issues you care about. Donate before December 31, and NewsMatch will double it.