With the once robust metropolitan news coverage in New York dwindling, a new nonprofit website called The City is teaming up with New York magazine in hopes of replacing some of that lost local accountability and investigative journalism.
The City will be led by Jere Hester, a lifelong Brooklynite and former city editor at The Daily News, where he spent almost 15 years. Mr. Hester expects to hire 15 journalists to focus on beats like transportation, politics, affordable housing, health care, education and climate change. He plans to start publishing articles in January.
“We’re really hoping to not only do some good here, but also to kind of reconnect people to civil activity,” said Mr. Hester, 52, who since 2006 has been the director of the NYCity News Service at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. “To me, the best stories are the ones that bubble up from communities.”
The partnership will allow The City to immediately reach New York magazine’s large audience, an unusual starting point for a news operation, said Kai Falkenberg, the executive director of The City and a former first deputy commissioner of the New York mayor’s office of media and entertainment.
The City will be accessible through the magazine’s website, and some of its articles will be posted there. The magazine will also provide technological infrastructure and office space, at least for the time being. But there will be no financial connection between the two organizations.
“It was hard to see a downside,” Adam Moss, the editor of New York, said.
“Our name is New York,” he added. “We can’t possibly do enough local coverage, and so this will offer us an opportunity to bring local coverage to our readers.”
Local news in New York has been battered recently. In July, The Daily News cut half of its already reduced staff. The Village Voice shut down for good last month. The news sites Gothamist and DNAInfo were shut down by their owner last year. (Gothamist was revived this year by a new owner, New York’s public radio station, WNYC.)
It’s this coverage void that The City is hoping to fill.
The site has raised nearly $8.5 million in funding — including $2.5 million each from the Leon Levy Foundation, the Charles H. Revson Foundation and Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.
“I love the idea of trustworthy journalism coming from the neighborhood level,” said Mr. Newmark, who has made several sizable donations to journalistic institutions recently, including $20 million to the investigative start-up The Markup this week.
“There’s a lot of great national world coverage, The Times included,” he added, “but sometimes what matters is: What’s the deal with the local dog park? How do you get a pothole fixed? And I’ve spent more than half my life in customer services, and the journalism equivalent of customer service is grass-roots journalism.”
Philanthropy has become a more common means of funding journalism in recent years, with outlets like The Texas Tribune, ProPublica and Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news website that covers education in seven cities, all benefiting from the practice. And some of those outlets have made local journalism a priority.
In August, ProPublica announced that it was expanding its local reporting network, looking to fund projects on government accountability. Civil Media, a blockchain technology company that aims to help start 100 journalism outlets by the end of the year, has provided grants to newsrooms in Chicago, Denver and the Hudson Valley.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism recently announced a $20 million local media transformation fund, expanding the Table Stakes project, which helps accelerate the digital transformation of major metro newsrooms around the country.
The Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund are contributing funding to the American Journalism Project, which aims to act as a venture philanthropy firm by providing grants and consulting to local news outlets throughout the country. The venture, still in its early stages, is run by John Thornton, founder of The Texas Tribune and a successful venture capitalist who also donated to The City and will sit on the board of directors, and Elizabeth Green, the founder of Chalkbeat.
“We want to mobilize a movement to support the local news our democracy deserves,” Ms. Green, who is on the advisory board for The City, said. “If we’re really going to give democracy the news it needs, many more local newsrooms need to be able to look like newsrooms.”
Ms. Green said she was excited to see a renewed interest in investing in local journalism. But rather than a return to the days when beat reporters competed for daily scoops, she expects to see more collaborative projects between nonprofit news organizations, she said.
Ben Smith, the editor of BuzzFeed News, will be the chairman of The City’s board of directors. Other members include Sarah Bartlett, the dean of the CUNY journalism school; Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor of New York; and S. Mitra Kalita, the senior vice president for news, opinion and programming for CNN Digital.
The advisory board will provide Mr. Hester with advice, contacts and recruiting. It includes the WNYC host Brian Lehrer; Jim Dwyer and Sam Roberts of The New York Times; Debby Krenek, the publisher of the Newsday Media Group; and Richard Tofel, the president of ProPublica.
“Journalism is a utility like water in a city — the place will fall apart without it,” Mr. Smith said in explaining why sites like The City were important. “I don’t think anyone imagines that The Village Voice fell apart because they ran out of bad landlords for them to cover.”
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