Chicago Local Reporting Awards Initiative Evaluation Report

[Source: The Chicago Community Trust, by Ngoan Le, June 12, 2012]

If you’re concerned about the paucity of good reporting on issues facing low-income communities, you might want to take a look at the results of a recent experimental initiative by a collaborative of Chicago-area foundations.

This Local Reporting Awards initiative provided 31 mini-grants in 2011 to a non-traditional mix of winners—community members, nonprofit issue groups, community organizations, journalists and news companies—to “produce a burst of impactful relevant coverage of, by and for” low-income communities on the south and west sides of Chicago. It also sought to “stimulate the emergence of sources and voices of coverage that can help fill the information gap in these areas.”

The result? Evaluator Janet Coats, a nationally renowned journalist and foundation expert, concludes in a new evaluation report:

  • “There is no question that the Local Reporting Awards recipients tapped into voices and communities that go uncovered by traditional media outside of crime and poverty coverage.“
  • “The stated goal to increase diversity of voices—to hear from people who do not regularly appear in traditional media—is overwhelmingly achieved....Diversity is evident in race, in ethnicity, in gender and in sexual orientation but goes beyond those traditional measures....Topical diversity is excellent as well. From environmental issues to the arts to education to the class divide in the black community these stories give us a sense of the breadth of life in these neighborhoods.”
  • Evaluators “were blown away by the quality of work” produced: “We have conducted content audits of clients who spent significantly higher sums of money and worked exclusively with professional journalists that did not achieve this level of editorial quality.”
  • The program’s decision to enlist both Community Media Workshop and The Chicago Reporter in counseling award recipients was a “game changer” that greatly improved both editorial quality and distribution of the work.

Coats’ conclusions are contained in the attached evaluation report, which also describes the program and provides links to the many stories produced by Local Reporting Awards recipients.

The Local Reporting Awards initiative is part of the Community News Matters program, a funders collaborative created in 2009 to spur the growth of new sources of quality news and information for and about the Chicago region. Supporters of Community News Matters are The Chicago Community Trust, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the McCormick Foundation, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago. The Community News Matters program is part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, $24 million effort to help community foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged.

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