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Winning the just and equitable local news and civic information that communities need to thrive requires building strong relationships, shifting resources and addressing media narratives and practices that perpetuate harm.

In 2023, Free Press achieved a lot of progress on these fronts. We built powerful coalitions, slowed the momentum of harmful bills, held media companies accountable for harm, and shared knowledge at a variety of conferences and gatherings. Our Media 2070 colleagues advanced the conversation on reparations and showed us how to build cultural strategy through art and popular education. We published research that informs policy decisions, testified about the importance of local journalism and helped lead the campaign for philanthropists to make deep investments in local journalism. We also experimented with video content as a popular education tool and brought people together for focus groups, happy hours, policy planning and visioning.

Here are some of the activities the News Voices, journalism-policy and Media 2070 teams at Free Press engaged in at the end of 2023:

News Voices in the field

Panelists at the workshop “Independent Media and the Solidarity Economy” at PhillyCAM’s People Powered Media Fest

News Voices Director Vanessa Maria Graber (third from right) was a panelist in the workshop “Independent Media and the Solidarity Economy” at PhillyCAM’s People Powered Media Fest along with our allies from the Media, Inequality, and Change Center, the Bonfire Media Collaborative and the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

News Voices Director Vanessa Maria Graber, Free Press colleague Joseph Torres and allies

Vanessa Maria (left) and colleague Joseph Torres (second from left in right-hand photo) attended the symposium “When Media Put Social Justice at Risk,” where Joe was an interlocutor. At the event, which the Center for Media at Risk and the Annenberg Center for Collaborative Communication hosted, they were thrilled to meet up with independent media producer Chinchilla Jonesia, Alicia Bell of Borealis Philanthropy, PhD student and Free Press Research Fellow Anjali DasSarma and Abolitionist Journalism cohort leader Lewis Raven Wallace.

News Voices Program Manager Cassie Owens joined fellow Journalism Accountability Watchdog Network members from the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the Philly chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association to celebrate the end of a big year advocating for equitable and antiracist coverage and practices in the city.

MacArthur’s $48-million investment in civic media

On Dec. 18, the MacArthur Foundation announced $48 million in grants as part of the Press Forward initiative, a philanthropy-led effort to strengthen local communities and democracy by supporting local news and civic information.

Press Forward launched in September when 22 philanthropic institutions unveiled a coordinated plan to invest at least $500 million over the next five years in local journalism and civic media. As one of MacArthur’s 17 initial grantees, Free Press will receive a $1-million grant in this first round to help the organization support the creation of local and state policies that prioritize the information needs of underserved communities.

Our allies Documented, El Tímpano, Enlace Latino NC, Outlier Media, Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy and Rebuild Local News also received significant grants. We’re thrilled to see these community-driven local-news outlets get this level of support for their amazing work!

We released a video documenting journalism’s history of harm

"The journalism industry must acknowledge its history of harm" inside a picture frame surrounded by flowers

Over the past year and a half, Free Press Reparative Journalism Project Manager Diamond Hardiman has been researching the need to prioritize healing and repair to confront journalism’s violent history. This has culminated in Free Press’ newly created Reparative Journalism Project, which draws on the community-organizing model of News Voices and the media-reparations call of Media 2070.

In our first video, “A Journey Toward Reparative Journalism,” we discuss the legacy of harm in the field of journalism and sit with how the subjugation of Black and Indigenous folks is central to the roots of journalism. We must ground ourselves in this history so we don’t recreate the harms of the past as we dream up and work toward creating a lush and equitable media future.

In 2024, we’ll share other examples of how journalism has harmed Black communities and other communities of color, highlight what journalism could learn from processes of repair undertaken globally and visit worlds where journalism prioritizes repair. Learn more in this blog post.

Free Press Action speaks out against a harmful journalism bill

Free Press Action Co-CEO Jessica J. Gonzalez testifying in the California statehouse against the California Journalism Preservation Act

On Dec. 5, Free Press Action Co-CEO Jessica J. González testified before the California Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the need for trustworthy and equitable journalism — and the flawed California Journalism Preservation Act. According to Free Press Action’s research, the CJPA would reward massive media conglomerates and hedge funds that have destroyed local news — and provide hardly any support for locally focused independent, nonprofit and ethnic media outlets.

Want to learn more about the CJPA? Read González’s full testimony here.

What’s on deck for the Media Power Collaborative

Free Press’ Media Power Collaborative (MPC) — made up of nearly 200 media workers, movement organizers and allied researchers — grew in 2023. MPC members met for workshops, policy updates and the group’s first-ever in-person event.

Members also gathered in focus groups and dozens of smaller meetings this fall to flesh out how the MPC can best meet this moment and uplift a community-centered approach to reimagining local journalism.

The result of this deliberation was a renewed strategic plan for 2024, one that will turn the MPC into a national hub for strategy, action and learning around media policy. This year, members will begin building a collective understanding of the current political landscape, and develop the political-organizing skills needed to drive forward legislative campaigns. By the end of 2024, the MPC will become a hands-on policy-organizing laboratory, with members contributing to state and local campaigns across the country.

Read Free Press’ recap of what happened in the journalism-policy world in 2023.

Harnessing Black technology and media

Diamond Hardiman and Venneikia Williams in front of the Black Future Newsstand exhibit at AfroTech

In November, our colleagues Diamond Hardiman and Venneikia Williams (pictured) presented a travel-sized version of the Black Future Newsstand at the AfroTech conference in Austin. The newsstand offered space for people to share their dreams for a future media where Black people control their stories from ideation to distribution — a world that will exist on the other side of media reparations.

Black Future Newsstand, a historic project from Media 2070 and the Black Thought Project, debuted in Harlem in the week leading up to Juneteenth. An art installation, the newsstand was filled with Black-owned publications that hold Black stories with all the care, tenderness, joy and beauty they deserve. People also had the opportunity to offer their dreams for the future as a part of the newsstand’s “Black Thought Wall”.

Read more about the importance of storytelling and Black liberation.

Looking ahead

In 2024, Free Press will continue organizing journalists and allies to build power and solidarity. We’ll research the most effective ways to produce civic and public-safety journalism, and amplify the voices of our allies doing amazing work. And we’ll continue advancing public funding for journalism in New Jersey and beyond. Get in touch if you’d like to be part of this work. We’d love to hear from you!

Donate today to help us continue to fight for the news and information communities need.

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