In October, 19 newsrooms in the RFA/LMA Sustainability Lab had the opportunity to present to a panel of funder judges their plans to fund essential local journalism through philanthropy. What those newsrooms did right, according to the funder judges, offers a set of best practices that can be applied by any news organization.

The panel of judges included representatives from Meta Journalism Project, Knight Foundation, Google News Initiative, Commonwealth Fund, Ground Truth Project and Local Media Foundation. Here are seven best practices judges singled out about the news outlets’ philanthropy-focused reporting efforts.

Tackle a problem that matters

“Data has a race problem, and Mapping Black California … is here to solve it.” 

That’s how the team from Black Voice News framed both the data inequity problem, and how its mapping project would fill those gaps.

“Iowans depend upon clean water … and we are failing as conservators of the land and water.” 

That’s how the team at The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, introduced its Iowa Journalism Lab, and “The Clean Water Project.”

Focus on community challenges, not yours

One message we hear consistently from funders: Don’t think of philanthropy as an ATM for funding your newsroom. If you want to earn funders’ support, focus on community need, not your own. North Country Public Radio put the focus squarely on its community with its proposal for a Poverty beat reporter.

The Washington Informer explained how climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color and causes specific measurable harm in terms of health.

Meet your audiences where they are

Enlace Latino NC looked at the lack of information available to Latinos in its area, and the differences in media habits, and decided to create a podcast for its Spanish-speaking audiences as another way to reach this community.

Show how journalism can make a difference

PublicSource described how its approach to reporting on Pittsburgh was not just “more stories” but was strategic, with a “name and explain” editorial philosophy, a commitment to elevating community voices, and showcasing solutions to inform leaders and increase agency.

Focus on solutions/responses as well as the problem

Bay City News built its project around a solutions-centered reporting approach to the problem of homelessness in Stockton, California, including both showcasing successes and tracking the effectiveness of government programs.

Document your legacy of service

Journalists are known for their skills at telling the stories of others. But news organizations cannot assume that our audiences understand the value of our local journalism. IndyStar did a good job showcasing its strong record of investigative journalism that has held the powerful to account.

Focus on the impact of local journalism

Richland Source engaged with its audience to better understand how its reporting directly contributed to community engagement. These examples powerfully demonstrate the direct effect good local journalism has on civic engagement and healthy communities. 

Along with the seven best practices above, there were a few hard-earned lessons for the news outlets in the cohort, including:

  • Get to The Ask! Remember that the point of the pitch … is to pitch.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. All presentations improve with practice. That includes checking your mic, your background, your internet connection and your ability to screen-share.
  • If you’re not the best sales person, add someone to your pitch team who is!

Our funder judges also asked some tough questions of our news outlets — questions every news organization must be ready to answer to earn philanthropic support, including:

  • How will you ensure your reporting reaches the community you propose to serve?
  • Why can’t you fund this project yourself without philanthropy?
  • How will you sustain this work after the funding is gone? 

The RFA/LMA Sustainability Lab was led by Local Media Association in partnership with Report for America, with funding from Meta Journalism Project. The LMA Lab for Journalism Funding is made possible with continued support from Google News Initiative. 

Congratulations to the five news outlets whose journalism projects were voted the best by our panel of funder judges. 

Pitch Day winners, Session 1:

Enlace Latino NC ($1,500): Enlace Latino NC Podcast 
North Country Public Radio ($1,500): Poverty Beat Reporter
Henrico Citizen ($1,500): Community Vitality Lab

Pitch Day winners, Session 2:

PublicSource ($2,000): Journalism for a Better Pittsburgh
AZCIR ($1,000): Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting