IECF Combatting Inland Empire News Deserts with Launch of Journalism Innovation Hub+Fund Collaborative

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In a groundbreaking move poised to revolutionize the media and journalism landscape of the Inland Empire, leaders from local community news organizations gathered at ESRi to announce the launch of the Journalism Innovation Hub+ Fund. This initiative, established in 2022 through the Inland Empire Community Foundation, aims to support local and regional journalism, fostering a sustainable and reliable news ecosystem in the face of rampant disinformation and the decline of local news outlets.

The kickoff event featured prominent figures from various news organizations, including Inland Empire Community News, KVCR Public MediaBlack Voice News, and Frontline Observer, among others. The highlight of the event was a keynote address by Paulette Brown-Hinds, PhD, Chair of the Journalism Innovation Hub+ Fund and Publisher of Black Voice News.

“Both media and philanthropy play a crucial role in advancing a multi-racial democracy and serving the public good. I’ve been particularly excited by philanthropy’s response to the crisis in local news media,” Brown-Hinds said. “As a fund, we are focused on the future, committed to building a stronger news ecosystem by thinking creatively about improving the civic health of our region through community engagement and solutions reporting on vital conditions for thriving communities.”

The Journalism Innovation Hub+ Fund is designed to support innovations in community news, expand reporting on essential conditions, and invest in sustainable models for local news and civic information. The initiative aims to combine philanthropic efforts to enhance impact, connect donors and funders committed to amplifying community voices, and foster more active, informed communities.

The fund’s establishment comes at a critical time. Since the explosion of the pandemic in early 2020, at least 85 local newsrooms in the U.S. have closed. Others have barely remained in operation, cutting staff, salaries, and work hours. About 1,800 newspapers have shut down across the country since 2004. These closures have left many communities as “news deserts,” lacking reliable local news sources.

“Study after study shows how local news fosters informed communities and civic engagement,” Brown-Hinds continued. “We are proud to announce that the Inland Empire has become one of the first regional chapters in California to benefit from this initiative.”

The event also featured remarks from Dean Baquet, former editor-in-chief of The New York Times, who emphasized the critical role of local journalism in maintaining a healthy democracy. “There is an absolute crisis in local news,” Baquet stated. “I’ve visited newsrooms that once had hundreds of journalists and now have just a handful. Collaborative journalism is the way forward. None of these news organizations have the resources to do big investigative stories alone, but together, we can.”

Baquet, who reported on cases of corruption and money laundering between 1990 and 1995, also discussed the need for news organizations to move forward from competitors to collaborators. “Competition was good for journalism when we could do it, but it can’t be sustained anymore. It’s time for us to collaborate to survive and thrive.”

During the Q&A session, Evan Sanford, executive director of the Redlands Area Chamber of Commerce, asked Baquet about his thoughts on whether there are two sides to every story. Baquet responded, “No. There’s no two sides to racism and anti-Semitism. Some stories do have two sides, but most don’t.”

Baquet highlighted the importance of embracing technology in journalism. “We should not run away from tech,” he said. “While there are challenges, there are also tremendous opportunities. Newsrooms must learn to drive change and adapt to the fast-paced demands of the digital age.”

The Journalism Innovation Hub+ Fund aims to support local journalism through collaborative reporting, resources, and innovative solutions. By fostering partnerships and investing in media infrastructure, the initiative seeks to ensure the long-term sustainability of local news and bolster civic engagement.

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