Local Civic Leaders and Community Foundation Launch Local News Initiative of Southern Arizona

The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona is excited to announce the launch of a new initiative to support local reporting and community access to local news and information through fundraising, grants, and a public awareness campaign.

Led by a group of local civic leaders and anchored at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA), the Local News Initiative of Southern Arizona will raise local and national philanthropic dollars to help increase and strengthen local news coverage for the people of Tucson, Pima County, and across Southern Arizona. The first round of grants will support the hiring of local journalists.

Donations from local individual donors and local and national foundations will go into a pooled fund at CFSA with the plan to begin the first cycle of grantmaking in early 2024. Donations to the fund can be made here.

The open call for grant applications to hire more journalists will be an equitable and inclusive process.  The goal is to provide funding to hire more journalists committed to serving communities in Southern Arizona with nonpartisan, independent, and local reporting in the public interest. News providers might include existing or emerging startups, nonprofit news organizations, Spanish-language community news projects, news reporting distributed on mobile or social media platforms, local television, community radio, public media, traditional print publications, and new approaches to informing and engaging the community.

“In Tucson, Pima County, and across Southern Arizona, our region needs reliable, nonpartisan community news and information so that people can make informed decisions about their lives, their work, and their families,” said Jenny Flynn, President and CEO at CFSA, who has been working closely with the advisory committee on developing the initiative. “We are eager to work with our community to find the best equitable and inclusive solutions.”

Flynn announced today that Democracy Fund, a national foundation that has long supported local journalism, awarded a $100,000 grant to help kick off the initiative. In the last decade, Democracy Fund has supported community-based philanthropic solutions to the local news crisis in Chicago, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Democracy Fund also belongs to Press Forward, a new coalition of 22 local and national philanthropic groups that launched in September to help strengthen local journalism across the country. The funder coalition announced they have raised $500 million toward a $1 billion plan to strengthen local journalism over the next five years. CFSA will be seeking funding when Press Forward opens applications in early 2024.

In the last two decades, the local news crisis has been spreading to communities across the U.S. as the collapse of the traditional advertising business model for local news has led to the shutdown of more than 2,200 local newspapers and the elimination of thousands of local journalism jobs. Today, millions of Americans lack access to coverage about important local events and issues. In Tucson and Pima County, dozens of local journalism jobs have disappeared in recent years at Tucson-based news publications.

Flynn emphasized the importance of engaging members of the community to identify the best solutions.  “We are not only raising funds and planning for grantmaking, we are also listening to members of our community about the best way to help meet their news and information needs,” said Flynn. Members of the public are invited to share their thoughts through a survey available in English and Spanish.”

Nancy Sharkey, who is chair of the advisory committee, spent more than a decade as a professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism in Tucson. She said more local journalists are needed to fill gaping holes in essential news coverage on important topics and issues that matter to Southern Arizona’s residents.

“We need journalists providing rigorous, independent reporting on what is happening in our communities, our schools, at county and municipal meetings, and along the border,” said Sharkey, a former senior editor at The New York Times before joining the University of Arizona faculty. “We also need more local journalists to continue their important watchdog role, holding the government and our institutions to account through consistent and deep reporting,”

Other members of the advisory committee working on the initiative with CFSA include Tucson and Pima County residents Dino J. DeConcini, Beth Murfee DeConcini, Stephen Golden, Liliana Lopez, Donald Pitt, and Nina Trasoff. They have met regularly during the last year to develop a plan and local philanthropic response to the threats in local news.

“This new initiative seeks to ensure civic engagement around high quality and trusted local journalism for all communities,” said Liliana Lopez, an advisory board member who previously worked 12 years at the Arizona Daily Star. She served as editor of La Estrella de Tucson until the Star shut down the weekly Spanish-language newspaper earlier this year, creating a news desert in journalistic coverage in Spanish for the Hispanic community.

“As we rebuild local journalism, we need to make sure we are deeply listening to the people in our communities and make sure we are meeting their news and information needs on the social and mobile platforms they use,” Lopez said. “We also need to support new approaches to replace vitally important local journalistic coverage for our region’s Hispanic community.”

Stephen Golden, vice chair of the advisory committee, urged donors to consider supporting the new fund by the end of the year so more journalists could be deployed in early 2024.

“A growing field of academic research led by Penelope Abernathy at UNC and Northwestern University has identified news deserts as communities no longer served by a daily newspaper or are served by a “ghost newspaper,” Golden said. “When these news deserts arrive, the consequences in the community are dire. Voter turnout declines. Public participation in government goes down and corruption rises. We need local news reporting to be safe and secure.”

Dino DeConcini, a former Tucson City attorney, began the effort leading to today’s announcement. He alerted friends and fellow civic leaders last year about the local news crisis after reading a column from veteran journalist Mort Rosenblum, who publishes Mort Reports, distributed by email.

“I was astounded by the reaction. So many people shared the same concerns and asked what could be done to address this problem,” he said. “Mort described the relentless cutbacks, staffing reductions, and closures at local newspapers in our community, a trend that is happening around the country,” DeConcini said. “Reporting and information from local perspectives on vital issues such as water rights, education, immigration, the environment, and many others are now occasionally mentioned.”

DeConcini assembled a group that led to the creation of an advisory committee that met regularly, consulted with community members, and evaluated options. “We now have a plan that will make sure everyone in our community is being served with the news and accurate information they need to thrive and to become informed citizens,” he said.

DeConcini’s wife, Beth Murfee DeConcini, who worked at private foundations in support of the arts, reached out late last year to CFSA. “Community foundations across the country are taking a leadership role on this issue, and Jenny Flynn immediately saw its importance for our community and region,” said Murfee DeConcini. “Plus, a fund at CFSA ensures a non-partisan approach.”

During the last year, advisory committee members, Flynn, and CFSA team members outlined a plan to build local and national philanthropic support, drawing on expertise from local journalists, philanthropists, and civic, business, and community leaders across Southern Arizona. They enlisted national journalism and philanthropy experts, including Jennifer Preston, a consultant and former Vice President/Journalism at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Preston provides guidance and technical assistance to local civic leaders and funders who want to address the local news crisis through her new project, Accelerate Philanthropy for Journalism.

The advisory committee also hired Kadi Tierney, a local civic leader with extensive experience in philanthropy, to help support the advisory committee’s efforts to raise local philanthropic support from individual donors and local grantmakers.

Preston conducted research that included dozens of local interviews. Her research found significant declines in the number of local journalists at daily and weekly news organizations in Tucson and Pima County. At the same time, Preston’s research shows the local news crisis has spawned tremendous local innovation across Southern Arizona. “There are many talented journalists and innovative news leaders rebuilding and reimagining local news for Southern Arizona,” she said. “There are solutions to invest in right here in Southern Arizona.”

Nina Trasoff, who was a reporter at KGUN-TV and later served on City Council, said she joined the advisory committee because of her concern that the region no longer had enough working journalists who “know and understand the nuances of our community. It is essential for our functioning as a society. Our very democracy demands that we address this crisis in local news coverage.”

Donald Pitt, an advisory committee member who has been a longtime Tucson resident, business leader, and lawyer, said that the goal of the initiative is aimed at helping all persons in Southern Arizona communities live “an informed, productive, and happy life.” This is, he added, “regardless of their age, ethnicity, location, education, employment, interests and otherwise through newspapers, magazines, radio, television, social media, the internet and all other means of distribution to receive daily, accurate, factual, news as well as community information.”

For more information about the Local News Initiative, please visit cfsaz.org/localnewsinitiative.

Take The Survey        Make A Donation     Meet The Advisory Committee