This grant opportunity is designed to empower local and community-based news organizations with funds and peer learning to begin or enhance civic discourse initiatives, paying special attention to the diversity of voices and people included in such work.
Please read all details below before applying by August 21 at 8 p.m. ET. We anticipate notifying applicants of decisions on September 1. Have questions? Want to get ideas for a potential project? You can sign up for group Q&A sessions on Thursday, August 10 with Kevin Loker, director of strategic partnerships and research.
Tell me more. What is the goal of this program?
We want to empower local news organizations with funds and peer learning to kickstart or enhance their civic discourse initiatives. In doing so, we aim to accelerate the field and uplift new models of how local news can support civic discourse — and well ahead of the 2024 elections, one instance where such civic infrastructure, positioned to serve a multi-racial, multi-faith and ideologically diverse America, is direly needed.
What should the focus of my project be?
This answer should start with a thoughtful reflection on what your community needs in terms of healthier civic discourse and what your news organization can provide to support that end. For our purposes, API is interested in projects that deeply involve communities of color. We are also interested in projects that give voice and build bridges among other differences, such as religion, class, immigration status, language barriers, politics or more, which intersect with race. We see this as a critical area of growth for news organizations and an inclusive democracy.
And, to be clear, your project does not have to deal directly with local politics or elections. API sees “civic discourse” being about a broader capacity to address and solve shared challenges, which can include matters of government but is not limited to it. Projects that focus on strengthening more general social ties may better position your organization for dealing with contentious elections, whenever they do occur.
Which organizations can apply?
API programming serves a range of local and community-based media in the U.S. Both nonprofit and for-profit news organizations can apply. We are committed to setting aside at least 30 percent of grant funds for publishers of color and will encourage applications from local news organizations of any medium (e.g. newspaper, digital-only, public media, TV, newsletter-based, etc.). We also welcome collaborations among local news organizations that serve similar geographic locations. Organizations must submit their tax ID and valid W9 when applying.
How much can I request?
We will take requests of up to $10,000 to be spent during the grant period, September 15, 2023, to January 31, 2024 (approximately four months). We anticipate most awards will be for less than $10,000.
What can I use the funds for?
We have seen time and again how even small grants of a few thousand dollars can help news organizations get “unstuck” from a status quo in coverage or business approaches. Our goal is to provide publishers with an opportunity — and momentum — to take steps toward doing journalism differently.
Here are a few examples of how the grant funds can be used:
- In-person event costs (for example, venues, food, etc.)
- Stipends for participants (e.g. in small group dialogues, advisory boards)
- Digital tools that support constructive conversation (e.g., Local Voices Network, Poll.is)
- Funds to offset expenses in partnering with a relevant organization (e.g. a university-based survey center or conflict resolution program, facilitators, etc.)
- Time for staff or contractors to develop relationships
- Promotion of events or initiatives
News organizations should be prepared to document their expenditures.
What does the grant reporting look like?
All organizations that receive funds must complete a short “learning memo” due Feb. 28, 2024, to help inform insights shared with the broader field. A simple financial report will be due on March 29, 2024. Templates will be provided.
Describe the peer learning involved.
API will organize three peer-learning sessions over Zoom to help the grantee cohort learn from and advise each other on their work. Two team members are required to attend these sessions:
- September 21, 2023 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET
- October 26, 2023 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET
- February 1, 2024 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET
API will also offer optional skill development sessions for participants who want to strengthen their approach to this work. The topics of these sessions will be determined after reviewing applications. These opt-in sessions will tentatively take place during:
- The week of October 2, 2023
- The week of November 27, 2023
What have grantees in prior programs achieved in a few months and with a few thousand dollars?
Here are few examples of what past API grantees have achieved:
- El Tímpano recently announced the launch of Tumil El Tímpano, a new initiative to serve the Bay Area’s Maya Mam communities. They piloted this work with the help of an API grant.
- KALW developed relationships with underserved communities during an election grant — and continued to engage them more broadly in coverage after the grant ended.
- The Coloradoan began a new partnership with the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University, a partner it now regularly works with as part of a reimagination of its opinion section.
Grantees have also discussed bringing in new sponsors or funders in coordination with these grants, and building relationships that led to new subscribers or members.
Where might I look for inspiration for my pitch?
Local news organizations across the country are finding novel ways to strengthen civic discourse,to facilitate constructive conversations, and ultimately create new kinds of civic infrastructure:
- The Coloradoan has partnered with experts in public deliberation to restructure its opinion section for productive conversation.
- The San Francisco Chronicle has launched SFNext, a new project to involve city residents in finding solutions to some of San Francisco’s most pressing problems.
- Reckon launched BRIDGE Alabama to engage Alabamians younger than 40 in a “different kind of conversation that decreases polarization, builds community, and supports community-led storytelling and news in advance of the state and midterm elections.”
- Conecta Arizona, another former API grantee, held “cafecitos” on WhatsApp, creating space for dialogue among community members and with experts on local issues.
- Connecticut Public, another former API grantee, has begun a civility initiative that includes events. They have partnered with Braver Angels and recently held an event with the League of Women Voters on how women are leaders in improving discourse.
- The Lexington-Herald Leader partnered with CivicLex to amplify the voices of community members on issues of racial justice.
Read more API insights on opinion journalism and civic discourse.
Can the press really connect communities and help people make decisions or solve problems?
At API we believe that for democracies to thrive, people need accurate news and information about their communities, the problems of civil society and the debates over how to solve them. However, as local newspapers close or face significant resource challenges, challenges abound: polarization increases, national and identity-based misinformation has a freer reign, and we lose essential facts and accountability. These all impede how communities can discern and take action on issues of civic significance.
But it’s not just about the reporting. Throughout history, the press has functioned importantly as a convener and public forum. Sometimes, this has been through the opinion sections, which have imperfectly given voice to perspectives on local issues and served as vehicles for local dialogue. At other times, events unite communities and help create bonds for collaborative problem-solving. Sometimes, it is both, or more. If local news disappears, we lose more than local facts: American communities lose critical civic infrastructure as well, the connections necessary for ensuring our society thrives.
As we enter a post-pandemic world, where people are searching to rebuild connection, it is an ideal time to accelerate local news efforts like these that facilitate and inspire civic discourse — and, most important, to help local news organizations make sure these conversations are representative of the diversity of their communities.
For additional questions, please email XX@pressinstitute.org.