Newsrooms that seek to earn philanthropic support for their journalism must identify a meaningful problem facing their community, create a plan to address that issue through journalism — including resources needed — and have a track record of driving impact.

Those were the top takeaways from the fifth edition of “Pitch Day,” where news outlets graduating from the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding had the opportunity to present their funding proposals to a panel of funder judges.

From the latest cohort of 15 news outlets, the top two presentations from each of two pitch sessions were recognized by judges for their inspiring proposals: Michigan Chronicle (first place), Southeast Missourian (first), Long Beach Post (second) and St. Louis Magazine (second).

Judges from funding organizations once again volunteered time and valuable feedback during LMA Pitch Day. This time, judges included: Tiffany Proscia from Google News Initiative, Tyler Tokarczyk from Inasmuch Foundation, Bethanne Fox and Barry A. Scholl from Commonwealth Fund, Kevin D. Grant from GroundTruth Project, and Joaquin Alvarado from Studio To Be.

Lessons from Pitch Day

A core principle of the Lab for Journalism Funding is that “feedback is a gift.” With that in mind, the feedback from Pitch Day judges offers valuable insights for any newsroom seeking to partner with philanthropic sources to drive impact through civic journalism. The key is finding that “unity of purpose,” where good journalism, community need and the goals of funders align.

“Across all the presentations, everybody was so grounded in the challenge that they’re solving for, and in working in partnership with their communities,” said Proscia. “Very, very inspiring.”

“[Everyone] did such a great job of making the case of why your organization or outlet had a particular expertise that made you the right people to be doing this work,” observed Fox. “As a funder … it just gives you this confidence that, OK, if we do this we’re making this investment with the right people.”

Jennifer Preston, one of the coaches in the lab, and formerly vice president of journalism for Knight Foundation, noted: “The thing that emerged from the pitches is that journalists care about their community, and how authentic and deep are the concerns that you have for your community.” She praised the news outlets for not only having a strong journalism plan but also a plan for engaging their audiences.

“I know the ‘ask’ is the most uncomfortable part,” said Tokarczyk. “But actually knowing how those dollars are going to be put into the field I think is really important for a lot of funders.” He encouraged news outlets to detail their budget to make clear how the dollars will be used to drive community impact.

“As a collective set of presentations, these all had that consistent passion of conveying you’re going to do this whether or not I fund you,” said Alvarado, who also coaches in the lab. “So funders are now in the position of feeling like: I’ve got to help. I’ve got to be a part of this somehow.”

The Lab for Journalism Funding is a six-month cohort-based program that trains local newsrooms in best practices for developing and funding journalism projects. Launched in September 2020 and made possible with continued support from Google News Initiative, the Lab has trained 70 newsrooms to date, and those news organizations have collectively raised more than $17 million to fund essential local journalism. News outlets are supported by a team of expert coaches including Joaquin Alvarado, Joanne Heyman, Sam Johnston and Jennifer Preston. Case studies and best practices from the Lab for Journalism Funding are included in the 42-page industry report Pathways to Philanthropy, which is free to download.

Pitch Day winners and their proposals

First Place: Michigan Chronicle — Horizons

The Michigan Chronicle “Horizons” project aims to increase awareness and access to economic opportunities for Detroit residents to address alarming rates of poverty, illiteracy, and lack of access to opportunities faced by Detroit residents. The program includes a resource lab focused on empowering residents with information to secure higher wage jobs and increase their economic mobility. The Chronicle, known for creating information and resources through special content series that drive impact, seeks $225,000 over three years to fund the program and make it sustainable.

A clip from the Michigan Chronicle’s pitch for the “Horizons” project.

First Place: Southeast Missourian — Community Health Impact Lab

The Community Health Impact Lab is a collaboration of over a dozen media organizations covering 10 counties in Southeast Missouri, working to address the poor health outcomes in the region. The region has high rates of diabetes, food insecurity, and obesity, and suffers from a lack of education, healthcare access, and transportation. The lab, led by Southeast Missourian, will investigate and report on the major health challenges, convene community summits, and provide ongoing news coverage and information via multiple channels, all free of charge. The project requires $891,000 over three years and aims to have a profound impact on the health of the region. The lab hopes to serve as a community leader in improving health outcomes.

A clip from the Southeast Missourian’s pitch for the Community Health Lab.

Second place: Long Beach Post — Black Maternal and Infant Care in Long Beach

The Long Beach Post seeks to produce the first in a series of investigative reports on Long Beach’s racial equity and reconciliation initiative, with a focus on the inequities surrounding black maternal and infant mortality rates. The team will produce original reporting and convene community members in events to raise awareness and engage in public conversations to bring sustainable solutions and measurable results. With an investment of $250,000, the project will increase awareness of the plight of black moms and babies in Long Beach, increase the visibility of existing services, and re-energize civic leaders to take actions toward the goals outlined in the racial equity and reconciliation initiative.

A clip from the Long Beach Post’s pitch on Black maternal health and infant care in Long Beach.

Second place: St. Louis Magazine — Mental Health Lab

St. Louis Magazine proposes to address the mental health crisis in St. Louis by providing comprehensive multiplatform coverage that will reduce the stigma and highlight solutions that work to make an impact on policy and practice. It is seeking funding of $150,000 per year for the next three years, which would enable hiring of a full-time health reporter and subsidizing additional resources for reporting, multimedia, and production. The award-winning St. Louis Magazine has a 60-year legacy and plans to match funding dollar-for-dollar to amplify impact.

A pitch from St. Louis Magazine’s pitch for the Mental Health Lab.