ANNO Local News Publishers to Press Forward: Here's What We Really Need

The people actually bringing the news would like a word.

ANNO Local News Publishers to Press Forward: Here's What We Really Need

By Alice Dreger

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that organizing quickly is easy in the days of Zoom. This past week, the members of ANNO (the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets) demonstrated this as they pivoted rapidly to make a big ask of Press Forward

How did this all come about? 

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, ANNO members got word that, at the Knight Media Forum, university journalism program leaders, vendors, and the like were schmoozing with the Press Forward associates. (Overheard: “We’ve got your proposal and are considering it.”) 

Press Forward has never issued a call for proposals, but other groups' proposals are being actively considered? It felt like there was no time to lose in trying to get a foot in the door.

An emergency ANNO meeting occurred on Zoom the next afternoon, Feb. 22. Those present arrived at a consensus to draft a letter explaining to Press Forward what local news outlets like theirs most need, including most especially general operating funds, to keep going. An editorial working group formed and drafted a letter. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to ANNO member The Shoestring and drafted the first pass for the group.)

After undergoing group editing, on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 27, the letter was put to a ballot, with one vote allowed per member-outlet. By Tuesday night, Feb. 28, the matter had passed. The vote came to 28-3, with three stated abstentions and six member outlets not voting. For transparency, the names of the outlets who had voted yes were added to the letter.

Just one week after the decision to hold the emergency meeting, the letter was sent to Knight Foundation President and CEO Maribel Pérez Wadsworth, MacArthur Foundation President John Palfrey, and Press Forward Director Dale R. Anglin.

ANNO members’ ask, detailed in the public letter, includes $100,000 per year to every actively-producing local and regional nonprofit U.S. newsroom for the five-year projected lifespan of Press Forward. The group also seeks a one-time grant of $100,000 for an in-person ANNO meeting this fall aimed at articulating for funders the experiences and needs of independent nonprofit local news publishers. 

“Before you invest in more…intermediary projects,” the group wrote, “we ask that you meet with us to hear about what we really need to keep our organizations going. As the people who do the frontline work that all this effort is meant to support, we know what’s needed most right now: operational funding.

“We’ve learned from earlier experiences that we simply lack the staff and bandwidth to understand and implement much of the supportive resources being sent our way.

“That said, shared resources would definitely help us, including back office staff – paid for by a third party – to handle the resource-intensive aspects of running small nonprofits: HR and payroll management; bookkeeping and accounting; managing regulatory requirements; and donor data management. Many of us could also benefit significantly from cost-free, predictable, on-call assistance with websites, server and archive maintenance, graphic design, marketing, and the like.

“But most critically, we need funds to pay our reporters and editors well enough to keep them from giving up on journalism.”

When I asked why her organization signed onto the letter, Regina Clarkin, publisher and editor of the Peekskill Herald, said, “I signed the ANNO letter to Press Forward because I believe it is critical for the people making the decisions about how to spend money to save local news be informed about the work that is happening on the ground. It is the equivalent of a lender engaging in due diligence. 

“Without accurate knowledge from the people on the frontlines, decisions are made in a vacuum. The letter clearly spelled out what is needed to make local news sustainable.”

Adam Gillitt, publisher of the Alameda Post, struck a similar note:

“We signed onto ANNO's letter for the same reason we are one of the founding members of the organization. Sustainable news funding is incredibly difficult to secure for smaller organizations like the Alameda Post. When we apply for major grants and fellowships tailored to newsrooms like ours, we are passed over in favor of larger, longer-established organizations. We've been told ‘You need to get grants before you can get grants.’ And we see millions of dollars flowing to intermediary organizations who take a cut along the way before a few thousand of those dollars are made available to us. 

“The stability that comes with guaranteed funding would allow small newsrooms like the Alameda Post to focus our resources on our mission – keeping our community informed. Our woefully underpaid staff's time is already taken up with reporting and publishing news for our readers. Without the financial resources to support development, the amount of effort required to keep up with all these programs is prohibitive to us.

“That's why the ideas behind this letter are so important to us and other producers of nonprofit news. We're not dedicated fundraisers, we're journalists. Our work takes time and resources to produce. We need sustainable funding to provide our team with fair pay, and Press Forward, the Knight Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation have the ability to make that happen to preserve independent local news.”

Claire Schoen, board member of, also spoke to the importance of ANNO in her response:

“We joined ANNO because of its possibility – an organization of local journalists who ‘get it,’ who understand that our budget is tiny but we are fiercely dedicated to delivering the news. Serving Norwalk for over ten years, NancyOnNorwalk is supported by the work of volunteers and independent contractors with decades of experience in journalism, publishing, and digital marketing. We don’t need webinars, whitepapers or office hours with well-meaning organizations. We need reporters, web developers, fundraisers to help us continue creating and delivering local news. 

“We have passion. We have experience. We need money. ANNO is a group that understands this and lives it every day.”

I asked Jason Pramas of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), founding organizer of ANNO and conveyor of the letter, if he was satisfied by how this process went.

“This is what democracy looks like,” he replied. “My many colleagues and I created ANNO to be everything that foundation-dominated intermediary organizations like INN and LION – that were ostensibly set up as coalitions for independent news outlets – have utterly failed to be: transparent, deliberative, and run from the bottom-up in the interest of our member-outlets, first, foremost, and always.”

Read more about ANNO here.

Alice Dreger is a journalist, historian, and the publisher of Local News Blues. She founded East Lansing Info, a nonprofit digital investigative news service, and ran the operation for about ten years. Read more at the Local News Blues contributors page.