Quarles, the former publisher of The News & Observer, co-founded the Journalism Funding Project (JFP) in 2019.
What is JFP’s purpose?
Our goal is to help newsrooms raise funding to support journalism in their communities. In talking with editors around the country, we knew there were lots of concerns regarding education coverage, environmental coverage; then the [COVID-19] pandemic blew up everything and everyone needed help covering the pandemic. So with those goals in mind, local newsrooms found donors willing to support them but needed a nonprofit. That is where we step in. We are the fiscal agent for [sponsors] to send their funding through and we get it to those newsrooms.
Our other goal is to raise funding that we, JFP, can also contribute to newsrooms. So we put out grant requests to places like Google, Facebook, and any foundations out there that want to support local journalism. Any newsroom––not just print, but radio, or TV, or digital––any newsroom that meets our criteria, that has a need in the community, we want to provide funding to them.
How does a newsroom approach JFP?
We like to fund projects. We like newsrooms to say ‘Look, this is a critical issue that needs to be covered.’ We know editors are not trained, or many just don’t have any interest in being fundraisers but we want editors to introduce us to potential funders. If you can make the introduction, because you know your local markets, you know the people who have the influence and ability to write a check, then we make an effort to secure the dollars. You give us the introduction, tell us what the need is, we go out and secure the dollars on your behalf.
How do you ensure a funder isn’t influencing coverage?
First and foremost, the funder would not have any say-so in the coverage. They don’t approve a story or any content. The funder understands they’re funding coverage for a specific topic, be it development, health, the environment, and it’s up to that newsroom to make sure that is what they are doing. It is our responsibility to say we gave you dollars for, say, hospital coverage, we want to make sure you’re doing that. But the funder never has any say-so in if they like the coverage, or don’t. We will report coverage back to the funder, give them copies, links to it, but they don’t have any say-so.
How do you see JFP growing?
In two ways. Getting as many grants as possible from donors out there and helping to train editors around the country in how to open the door for us to secure grants. And just getting our name out. I know there are enough people out there who want to keep local newsrooms thriving. It is very important but it costs money to run a newsroom. So our role is to be one of many out there who are supporting journalism in local markets.
Can organizations that want to fund newsrooms approach JFP?
I hope so! For me personally, this need is so critical and I am deeply concerned about the future of our democracy. I just believe without the free press, without folks covering their local markets, our democracy is in trouble. So, for me, a real goal is to secure newsrooms to keep our democracy going.
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