Lenfest Institute, News Integrity Initiative, Democracy Fund, and Knight Foundation announce $650,000 Community Listening and Engagement Fund to help newsrooms adopt new audience engagement tools

(January 23, 2018) — The News Integrity Initiative (NII), Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism are joining together to create the Community Listening and Engagement Fund (CLEF), a new grant-making initiative to help news organizations produce more relevant and trusted coverage for the diverse audiences they serve. The Fund will subsidize the costs for newsrooms to adopt proven technology tools that enable them to engage with and listen to their communities.

The two initial services supported through CLEF are Hearken and GroundSource. Both software platforms were designed by journalists and have been tested and proven in newsrooms around the world. Hearken allows news organizations to include the public as a story develops, from conception to publication, enabling community members to suggest and then vote on which stories should be covered. GroundSource uses mobile messaging and voice to build two-way relationships with audiences.

NII, Democracy Fund, Knight Foundation, and the Lenfest Institute are collectively contributing $650,000 to support CLEF. The fund will ultimately be expanded to support the adoption of additional audience engagement technology, tools, and services.

CLEF was created to help newsrooms be more relevant, trusted and responsive to the public, leveraging technology to enhance the journalistic practices and workflows required for effective listening. The word “clef” is French for “key” and is also the name of a symbol indicating musical pitch. It is through better listening that journalists and newsrooms can read the tenor of the communities they serve and respond in the most appropriate tone. Hearken, GroundSource and other such tools have demonstrated that engaged readers are much more likely to become sustaining members or paying subscribers to community news organizations.

“News enterprises have turned increasingly to membership and digital subscription business models that require a keen ear for reader needs in order to succeed,” said Molly de Aguiar, Managing Director of the News Integrity Initiative who conceived of CLEF. “We are delighted to support this growing initiative.” Added Jim Friedlich, Executive Director of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, “Readers respond with their time, their trust, and their money to news organizations who listen best to them. Strong listening skills are both a journalistic and a business imperative.”

“In a democracy we need to be able to listen and engage with each other across differences,” said Paul Waters, senior associate at Democracy Fund. “Democracy Fund believes that journalists can help us do that, and this fund will help more newsrooms build those bridges in ways that strengthen journalism, communities and our democracy.”

“Trust in media is at an all-time low. To address this challenge, reporters need to develop stronger relationships with the communities they cover. The hope for the initiative is that it will help to close this gap and ensure a stronger future for journalism,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

U.S.-based newsrooms (or international newsrooms with a U.S.-based fiscal sponsor) are eligible to apply. CLEF provides need-based grants, and it will give preference to:

  • Non-profit journalistic entities (e.g., news outlets, public media, journalism schools)
  • Community-based for-profit media (e.g., ethnic media, LION members)
  • First-time partners of either Hearken or GroundSource

Participating newsrooms will receive a grant to cover between 25 to 75 percent of their first-year costs of using either or both tools. The average first-year cost of Hearken or GroundSource is $8,500. Grants will mostly range from about $2,000 to $6,400, and will be determined based on a number of criteria including newsroom size, need, and plans for how the tools will be used. Participating organizations will be required to cover a portion of their expenses, commit the time and personnel necessary to successfully integrate these tools into their editorial workflows, and participate in a study conducted by the Lenfest Institute on the efficacy of these engagement metrics. Applications will be accepted in three cycles throughout 2018.

 Applications to receive support from CLEF are now open, and the deadline for applying to the first cohort is February 16, 2018. Those interested in the fund can attend a webinar on Wednesday, January 31 at 3pm EST/1pm PST where representatives of the platforms and the funders will answer questions and discuss the process for applying for the fund.

About The News Integrity Initiative

The News Integrity Initiative at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is a $14 million fund supporting efforts to connect journalists, technologists, academic institutions, non-profits, and other organizations from around the world to foster informed and engaged communities, combat media manipulation, and support inclusive, constructive, and respectful civic discourse. The fund is supported by a coalition of partners, including Facebook, Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Ford Foundation, AppNexus, Knight Foundation, Tow Foundation, Betaworks, Mozilla, and Democracy Fund.

For more information, please visit: www.newsintegrity.com.

About Democracy Fund

Democracy Fund is a bipartisan foundation created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $70 million in support of a healthy democracy, including modern elections, effective governance, and a vibrant public square.

For more information, please visit: www.democracyfund.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.

For more information, please visit: www.knightfoundation.org.

About The Lenfest Institute for Journalism

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism is a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to develop and support sustainable business models for great local journalism. The Institute was founded in 2016 by cable television entrepreneur H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest.  Lenfest gifted to the Institute an initial endowment of $20 million, which has since been supplemented by other donors, for investment in innovative news initiatives, new technology, and new models for sustainable journalism.  The Institute’s goal is to help transform the news industry in the digital age to ensure that high-quality local journalism remains a cornerstone of our democracy.

For more information, please visit: www.lenfestinstitute.org.

About Hearken

 Hearken enables news organizations to listen to and engage the public as a story develops from conception to publication. Their unique public-powered methodology and engagement platform has lead to top-performing, differentiated and award-winning stories while also growing newsletter signups, paid subscribers and membership. An annual subscription to Hearken includes expert consulting, training, their custom platform, data reports and entry to a global community of best practices. Developed out of WBEZ as part of AIR’s 2012 Localore initiative, Hearken is now at work in more than 100 newsrooms around the world in various formats (TV, radio, newspaper, digital) and content types (feature investigations, breaking news, beat reporting, live events, topic-based or geographic-based coverage).

For more information, please visit: www.wearehearken.com.

About GroundSource

GroundSource is a platform newsrooms use to build and scale two-way relationships with audiences and communities via mobile messaging and voice. It’s also a service that helps newsrooms imagine and implement new ways to reach out to communities, build trust, and becoming more responsive to audience needs and interests. GroundSource is in service at dozens of newsrooms, civic organizations and non-profits around the US, and around the world.

For more information, please visit: www.groundsource.co.

Local News Solutions

The Lenfest Institute provides free tools and resources for local journalism leaders to develop sustainable strategies to serve their communities.

Find Your News Solution
news solution pattern