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Matthew Nisbet (left) and John Wihbey (right)

Matthew Nisbet, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, and John Wihbey, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Innovation, were recently awarded two grants in order to conduct a year-long research project examining how U.S.-based philanthropies are able to better support national and local non-profit journalism.

“Our goal is to better understand the assumptions, priorities, and goals that shape investments in non-profit media and journalism; where needs for funding are not currently being met; and where innovations or major impacts can be achieved,” said Nisbet.

The grants, from the Barr Foundation and Heising-Simons Foundation respectively, will allow Nisbet and Wihbey to examine the successes and weaknesses of current funding approaches, providing insight on how such investments can be expanded and made more impactful. The project is in partnership with the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University and the Media Impact Funders organization.

In the first phase of the project, Nisbet and Wihbey will be compiling and analyzing a comprehensive database of philanthropic grants supporting national non-profit news organizations  and local news organizations across states. They plan to examine how funding is allocated based on the types of journalism conducted and the subject matter covered, drawing on interviews with both philanthropic leaders as well as leaders of non-profit media organizations.

In the second stage of their project, Nisbet and Wihbey will examine foundations supporting non-profit news in Midwest states and cities. In many of these areas, there has been a major decline in the capacity of local newspapers to cover national and local issues, influencing public debate and election outcomes.

“In regions like the Midwest, the information needs of voters are frequently not being met. In these communities, people often lack a trusted local source of news that can explain, contextualize, and vet conflicting claims and interpretations, “ said Wihbey.

Ultimately, Nisbet and Wihbey’s project is an exciting part of both the Barr and Heising-Simon Foundations’ plans to support and further develop the field of journalism during a period of turbulent change within our political system.