A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

“Things are moving, and consumers are part of it, too. They are finding real news, sticking with it, and putting their dollars behind it.”

We’ve been obsessed this year about battling misinformation and, worse, disinformation. With good cause. But there’s another fight going on right alongside, and it’s a constructive one. Consumers and countries are launching an offensive to save sources of fact-based news: the kind of trusted reporting that helps people stay safe in a pandemic, decide to vote, volunteer for a cause they believe in, or simply connect with their neighbors.

We urgently need to save real news, and in democracies worldwide, broad forces are coming together to do it.

To support U.S. efforts to save local news, Pickering Fellow Kylie Lan Tumiatti at Columbia has been collecting legal, regulatory, and civic proposals and laws from around the world. Out of these dry documents — tax bills, legislation, regulation — you can get a living sense of common values and common purpose about what news can mean to our lives.

In Canada, broadcasting licensing requirements talk of news programs’ social responsibility to reflect their communities, to stay “in touch” with local needs. They make a case that journalists need to physically be there for the people they serve, visible in the communities they cover. “The continued presence of journalists in a market is a question of credibility and trust, which are the stock-in-trade of news outlets.”

U.K. regulators want to make sure local news consumers can expect “regularly refreshed,” high-quality news that reflects their interests and concerns and that reacts to local events in a timely way.

In Australia, officials call out the value of independence: news that has editorial independence from the subjects it covers, is not controlled by any political advocacy organization or anyone with a commercial interest in the reporting.

What qualifies as journalism? In Canada, it means a commitment to researching and verifying information before publishing it, giving those who are criticized a chance to rebut, presenting diverse perspectives, and honesty, including the honest representation of sources and the correction of errors.

These are all bedrock values of news. We collected these examples as part of an effort by the Institute for Nonprofit News and the Rebuild Local News Coalition to help support U.S. initiatives to maintain a free press. One such initiative, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, would provide an income tax credit for subscription to local news outlets.

Great challenges remain, of course. Consumers struggle to find strong news outside of the slush piles of search and social media. Journalists fight to keep reporting as news jobs are cut by the thousands. But keep hope — these global efforts already are having an impact.

In 2018, the Muttart Foundation bought journalists, civic leaders, lawmakers, and regulators from around the world to Canada to help figure out how philanthropy might sustain journalism. From those conversations and others grew some of the broadest government and philanthropic efforts yet to preserve a nation’s news. Canada’s measures aren’t perfect, but they are helping to keep news reporting alive across the country.

That same year, the U.K.’s Cairncross Review was commissioned to find ways to preserve high-quality journalism. Among its recommendations was exploring something akin to the 501(c)3 tax status that enabled the U.S. boom in nonprofit news. This fall, the Public Interest News Foundation was granted charity status to support public interest journalism throughout the U.K.

Things are moving, and consumers are part of it, too. They are finding real news, sticking with it, and putting their dollars behind it. When COVID hit in the spring, millions of people turned to nonprofit news websites to find reliable information, especially in communities that lacked access to local coverage. Readership spiked. And publishers tell us that once consumers found them, they stayed, through news fatigue and everything else. Readership of many independent local sites is holding at double or triple the levels of a year ago.

Individual donations to support quality journalism also grew in many places. In just three years, grassroots giving to news through the annual NewsMatch campaign has swelled from $26 million to more than $43 million as regular people step up to fund newsrooms they’ve come to know, trust and rely on.

All of this is teeing up 2021 as the year to save news.

Making sure we have a ready supply of real news can be the world’s most important weapon in the fight against disinformation. In democracies around the world, people are defining the quality news they want, and fighting to save it.

Sue Cross is executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

We’ve been obsessed this year about battling misinformation and, worse, disinformation. With good cause. But there’s another fight going on right alongside, and it’s a constructive one. Consumers and countries are launching an offensive to save sources of fact-based news: the kind of trusted reporting that helps people stay safe in a pandemic, decide to vote, volunteer for a cause they believe in, or simply connect with their neighbors.

We urgently need to save real news, and in democracies worldwide, broad forces are coming together to do it.

To support U.S. efforts to save local news, Pickering Fellow Kylie Lan Tumiatti at Columbia has been collecting legal, regulatory, and civic proposals and laws from around the world. Out of these dry documents — tax bills, legislation, regulation — you can get a living sense of common values and common purpose about what news can mean to our lives.

In Canada, broadcasting licensing requirements talk of news programs’ social responsibility to reflect their communities, to stay “in touch” with local needs. They make a case that journalists need to physically be there for the people they serve, visible in the communities they cover. “The continued presence of journalists in a market is a question of credibility and trust, which are the stock-in-trade of news outlets.”

U.K. regulators want to make sure local news consumers can expect “regularly refreshed,” high-quality news that reflects their interests and concerns and that reacts to local events in a timely way.

In Australia, officials call out the value of independence: news that has editorial independence from the subjects it covers, is not controlled by any political advocacy organization or anyone with a commercial interest in the reporting.

What qualifies as journalism? In Canada, it means a commitment to researching and verifying information before publishing it, giving those who are criticized a chance to rebut, presenting diverse perspectives, and honesty, including the honest representation of sources and the correction of errors.

These are all bedrock values of news. We collected these examples as part of an effort by the Institute for Nonprofit News and the Rebuild Local News Coalition to help support U.S. initiatives to maintain a free press. One such initiative, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, would provide an income tax credit for subscription to local news outlets.

Great challenges remain, of course. Consumers struggle to find strong news outside of the slush piles of search and social media. Journalists fight to keep reporting as news jobs are cut by the thousands. But keep hope — these global efforts already are having an impact.

In 2018, the Muttart Foundation bought journalists, civic leaders, lawmakers, and regulators from around the world to Canada to help figure out how philanthropy might sustain journalism. From those conversations and others grew some of the broadest government and philanthropic efforts yet to preserve a nation’s news. Canada’s measures aren’t perfect, but they are helping to keep news reporting alive across the country.

That same year, the U.K.’s Cairncross Review was commissioned to find ways to preserve high-quality journalism. Among its recommendations was exploring something akin to the 501(c)3 tax status that enabled the U.S. boom in nonprofit news. This fall, the Public Interest News Foundation was granted charity status to support public interest journalism throughout the U.K.

Things are moving, and consumers are part of it, too. They are finding real news, sticking with it, and putting their dollars behind it. When COVID hit in the spring, millions of people turned to nonprofit news websites to find reliable information, especially in communities that lacked access to local coverage. Readership spiked. And publishers tell us that once consumers found them, they stayed, through news fatigue and everything else. Readership of many independent local sites is holding at double or triple the levels of a year ago.

Individual donations to support quality journalism also grew in many places. In just three years, grassroots giving to news through the annual NewsMatch campaign has swelled from $26 million to more than $43 million as regular people step up to fund newsrooms they’ve come to know, trust and rely on.

All of this is teeing up 2021 as the year to save news.

Making sure we have a ready supply of real news can be the world’s most important weapon in the fight against disinformation. In democracies around the world, people are defining the quality news they want, and fighting to save it.

Sue Cross is executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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