(Aug. 19. 2020) — It’s time for local journalists to power up with a little NewsFuel.

NewsFuel is a new platform designed to help match journalists and news organizations with opportunities to fund their work. After more than nine months of effort, and with development funding of $300,000 from the Google News Initiative Innovation Challenge, Local Media Association launched NewsFuel Aug. 19.

The site contains searchable listings of prospective journalism funders and associated funding opportunities, including grants and fellowships. NewsFuel also lists news organizations that may be candidates for funding, and current or proposed news projects in need of funding.

To boost the octane of NewsFuel, LMA also opened applications today for investigative reporting stipends up to $5,000 from its Fund for Local Journalism. NewsFuel will become the new home of information on all LMA funds and related funding opportunities, said Nancy Lane, LMA chief executive officer.

“Journalism supported by philanthropy is one of LMA’s three core pillars for 2020-2021 as we look to reinvent business models for news,” Lane said. “We launched three funds that collectively raised nearly $2 million in the last four months to support journalism projects. We created the Center for Journalism Funding and are currently accepting applications for 15 publishers to take part in a lab. NewsFuel is the final part of this well thought-out strategy, all designed to make it easier for local media companies to fund great journalism projects through philanthropy.”

How NewsFuel works

NewsFuel opportunities results
Here’s how results of an Opportunities search look in NewsFuel.

NewsFuel begins with four data types:

  • Funders of local journalism, such as foundations; institutional and individual philanthropists; academic and government institutions; industry associations and more.
  • Opportunities for funding, including grants, stipends, fellowships, training/education subsidies and more.
  • News organizations in North America that may be candidates for funding.
  • News projects, current and prospective, that may be candidates for funding.

Journalists and news industry executives that seek funding for their work can search or browse funder and opportunity listings on NewsFuel. If funding opportunities have application processes, where possible those forms and details are linked from their NewsFuel listings for convenience.

Conversely, potential funders can use NewsFuel to research news organizations and their projects that may be good matches for their respective missions.

Users who register get the option to “bookmark” any listings of interest for easy reference over time. The site also offers a free email newsletter that periodically keeps subscribers informed of new or updated listings.

NewsFuel includes a “Getting Started Guide” to help first-time visitors get the most benefit from using the site.

NewsFuel origins

The site was originally envisioned in fall 2019 by Jed Williams, former LMA chief strategy officer; Peter Newton, LMA consultant; and Lane, with advice on technical scope from Jay Small, LMA chief operating officer. The team developed the concept and submitted NewsFuel as an application to the GNI Innovation Challenge.

In late 2019, GNI approved funding for developing NewsFuel to a “Minimum Viable Product” state.

“The LMA team saw that, except for the ‘big name’ funders, it was just harder than it should be for working journalists to find funding sources to help support and expand their work,” Small said. “We’re grateful to GNI for recognizing the depth of that problem and providing the resources to get NewsFuel into the industry’s hands.”

Soon after, the LMA team selected Cantina, a development firm based in Boston, to lead design and buildout of the platform. And in February and March, LMA and Cantina convened interviews and testing walkthroughs with advisors from key funders and news organizations, including:

  • Todd Franko, Report for America
  • Jennifer Choi, managing director, News Integrity Initiative (CUNY)
  • Melissa Davis, vice president, strategic communications and informed communities, Gates Family Foundation
  • Hernan Guaracao, chief executive officer, Al Dia
  • Catherine Badalamente, chief innovation officer, Graham Media
  • Neil Chase, chief executive officer, CalMatters
  • Jon Rust, co-president, Rust Communications
  • Jim Brady, chief executive officer, Spirited Media
  • Bill Church, senior vice president/news, Gannett
  • Tyler Tokarczyk, program director, Inasmuch Foundation
  • Sarah Ruger, vice president, Stand Together
  • Tim McCaughan, senior program manager, Charles Koch Institute

Armed with insights from those interviews and design/discovery sprints, Cantina and the LMA team completed MVP software development and initial testing in April.

Small, who now administers the NewsFuel program and roadmap, said getting the platform built was important, but not the greatest challenge on the path to launch.

“We figured our first, largest audience would be journalists and news executives, so we needed to launch with a large-enough, useful-enough corpus of funders and active funding opportunities,” he said. “A niche search service isn’t much good without plenty of relevant material in the database.”

Fortunately, Small said, LMA colleague Lindsey Estes had already compiled initial research on members of the journalism funding community. And over the summer, LMA built a team of research assistants including Camryn Allen (also LMA intern at the time), Benton Graham and Eric Xu. In the weeks leading up to launch, that team tracked down grant, stipend, fellowship and training opportunities aimed at journalists and news organizations.

The platform is still considered MVP, Small said, so the research work will go on: “We want our early NewsFuel adopters to know we’re just getting started finding and adding funding opportunities to the site. Some of our listings don’t yet have complete information included, so we’ll keep after that, too. And we’ll gladly accept any suggestions to make the listings more useful.”

Development plans

Future upgrades to NewsFuel, Small said, are likely to include:

  • The ability for representatives of funders and news organizations to “claim” their own listings on the site, and provide updates when appropriate.
  • Improved search functionality and sorting of search results pages.
  • Customized notifications of new or updated listings.

“Before we get ahead of ourselves with feature ideas, we want to see how the news community responds to the information and value propositions of NewsFuel as it is today,” Small said. “But if it proves helpful to match funders and journalism projects, we know we have a viable service with plenty of room to grow and improve.”