Philanthropy Can Strengthen U.S. Democracy by Supporting Local Journalism

April 18, 2024   King Laughlin

  • Congressional Reform
  • Blog

The Challenge

U.S. democracy depends upon a healthy and vibrant press. According to a Pew Research study, representative democracy is experiencing challenges globally with 74% of people believing their elected officials don’t care what they think. Trustworthy journalism is essential to hold our nation’s leaders and elected officials accountable and on the record.  This is an especially critical function at the local level, where reporters are called upon to cover their community’s representation in Washington, DC.

In recent years, there has been a significant decline in local journalism as news budgets decrease and online media proliferates.  As a result, constituents in a member’s district may not have a clear view of their representative’s work products or legislative effectiveness.  This worrisome trend has contributed to rampant misinformation, increased partisanship, and diminished civic engagement and participation.  As reported by MIT and Stockholm University, “Congressmen who are covered less by local press work less for their communities.”

How Local Journalism Can Strengthen Democracy

Addressing this problem will have many positive outcomes for democracy.  Greater transparency and accountability achieved through quality journalism can reduce polarization, expose corruption, control government spending, strengthen a sense of community, lessen bias among candidates, and navigate times of upheaval.

Nonprofits can play a vital role in revitalizing and sustaining local journalism by providing strategies, resources, and financial support to reporters and newsrooms.  Journalists covering their elected representatives need easy-to-use tools to increase efficiency, unbiased performance data, education about how Congress works, and access to qualified sources who can provide insight into legislation.

Few nonprofits to date have been able to invest in these kinds of programs and make them available to journalists.  But the Sunwater Institute is using its experience in research, data, and analysis to create a new program on Journalism and U.S. Democracy centered around its innovative Legis1 platform.  The program offers unparalleled access, knowledge, and expertise in one location for journalists.

Rebuilding the business models and infrastructure needed to bolster local journalism will take time and investment to achieve.  Nonprofits, like the Sunwater Institute, will continue to lead the way in this regard.  Our democracy is too important to go unreported.

If your organization is interested in supporting these efforts contact King Laughlin, klaughlin@sunwater.org to discuss ways to help. If you are interested in supporting Sunwater Institute, learn more here.

Additional Reading

The Roadmap for Local News

A Guide to Assessing Your Local News Ecosystem