A new initiative by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation aims to fill a gaping hole in the civic marketplace.
The foundation is investing $24 million over five years to help community foundations make better use of media and technology to keep communities informed and citizens involved.
The effort should serve as an important example for all nonprofits and foundations, which need to do a better job telling their story and that of their communities.
In an increasingly complex and confusing global marketplace, people and organizations need news and information they can use to make smart decisions geared to making their communities better places to live and work.
The mainstream news media once filled the critical job of delivering that news and information, which are the lifeblood of a free society.
But in the face of brutal competition in a marketplace dominated and saturated by corporate media, traditional news organizations have worked themselves into a frenzied identity crisis.
Their near-sighted solution has been to abandon their role as social watchdog and resource, preferring to pursue the safer goal of simply surviving by pandering to the fears and consumption preferences of readers, viewers and listeners.
Yet while it no longer seems to matter to the news media, social change remains the core business of nonprofits and foundations.
And social change depends on civic engagement and informed communities.
With the mainstream news media failing to keep communities informed, that essential job falls to nonprofits and foundations.
It is no small irony that the frantic drive for revenue and profits has blinded the media to the market value of news and information that address the core concerns of the communities they claim to serve.
With the Knight initiative piloting the way, nonprofits and foundations can work to meet the demand of the civic marketplace for news and information that citizens can use to heal, repair and grow our communities.
Todd Cohen, a veteran news reporter and editor, is editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal, an online newspaper published by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation in Raleigh, N.C. Cohen has taught nonprofit reporting and media relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Duke University, and regularly speaks on the topics of nonprofit media relations and trends in the charitable world.