A LETTER FROM OUR CO-FOUNDER AND CEO ELIZABETH HANSEN SHAPIRO


 

OCT 19 | 2021

 

A year ago, Marc Hand, Steve Waldman and I spent a string of Saturday mornings thinking together about the future of local news. We kept returning to two obvious needs for local news: mission-aligned capital and new ownership structures.Despite years of critical investment from philanthropy, the newspapers Steve was working with as CEO of Report for America simply did not have the ownership structures they needed to transform their businesses and serve their communities. From Marc’s perspective as CEO of the Public Media Venture Group, the pooled capital that worked so well to help public radio and television buy stations and transmitters could transform the ownership of local newspapers — but no such fund existed. And from my research into the economics of the news business at the Shorenstein Center, I knew the field had developed a robust set of tools and practices, and had an array of strong anchor newsrooms, but no organization was helping put the ownership, capital, and transformation strategies together to rebuild local news. While we had faith in our idea and the needs - what was missing was the dream team to make it all happen. Then Fraser Nelson joined our Saturday calls and shared fantastic insights from her experience leading the first-ever conversion of a metro newspaper to a nonprofit institution. And then Lillian Ruiz and I began a series of discussions about the missing capital and operational ingredients to sustainability, informed by her practical brilliance and serious news start-up bona fides from her time at the tech innovator Civil. Amongst this group of co-founders, I knew we had the makings of something special. We created The National Trust for Local News to mobilize mission-aligned capital and work with communities to create the new, sustainable ownership structures that are so desperately needed to protect and transform local independent news. This team is phenomenal. In just a year, we have moved from Saturday morning ruminating to the proud owners of 24 community newspapers in Colorado and ambitious work unfolding in a growing number of states. Our staff, fantastic board, visionary funders and thought partners have started a movement that we believe can scale across the US. Our timing could not be better. Americans of all parties are more aware of the importance of community news than even a year ago. Local businesses need to advertise locally. COVID and climate are local as well as global issues. And kids still play sports and community theaters still put on shows. Please feel free to share your ideas and aspirations with us. We are grateful for your part in the movement to keep local news in local hands.


 

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—Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro