Thursday, April 11, 2013

Director's Notes: APPLY BY MAY 8

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Clark Bell, Program Director
With the May 8 deadline for Letters of Inquiry fast approaching, I would like to review the Journalism Program’s current strategy and present a few ideas under consideration for 2014.

As you may recall, the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program has been transformed around the belief that news consumers---students, teachers, people like you and me---need help in coping with information overload.

Our $5.5 million in annual grantmaking is built around an Audience-Rights-Content framework.  It is designed to build a more informed, news literate and engaged citizenry. Our goal is to increase the level of civic engagement by strengthening the quality of journalistic content, helping audiences become smart new consumers and promoting an open and free environment in which journalism can flourish.

As a result, we shifted much of our portfolio to a “demand-side” approach to grantmaking and away from a “supply-side” strategy. We still support mid-career training for news media professionals, investigative reporting, community news, youth media, press freedoms and other areas that bolster the field of journalism in a time of transition.  Rather than shape grantmaking around the life cycle of a journalist, we now emphasize news literacy and its critical role as a catalyst for informing and engaging citizens.

The anchor to this work is the three-year, $6 million WHY NEWS MATTERS (WNM) initiative, which began in January with a major round of grant awards. The WNM cohort now includes 25 organizations doing news literacy work in Chicago.  

As we begin preparing for 2014, we look forward to reviewing your proposals for grants of $50,000 or more.  The deadline for letters of inquiry is MAY 8 (proposals of less than $50,000 can be submitted at any time throughout the year). 

We recognize the competitive nature of seeking grants to fund journalism projects.  Last year, we received 311 written requests seeking $26.8 million in funding.  Scores of other interesting ideas were nixed before formal submission because they were not suited to our strategy and portfolio. This is a highly selective process.  In the end, we judge proposals on fit, feasibility, need and ability to assess impact within the McCormick framework.

Grant officers Mark Hallett, Jennifer Choi and I have discussed a number of ideas that could fill gaps in the portfolio. For example, in the Content sector, we see a need for training Chicago area journalists on timely topics, interpreting data and multi-media storytelling.  A research project could assess the reach of existing news in Chicago communities and better define the critical issues facing low-income news consumers.

We believe that the quality of journalism produced by Chicago youth media groups has improved dramatically, in part because of the nearly $6 million McCormick has invested in the sector since 2006.  With that in mind, we will begin evaluating youth media programs on the strength of the journalistic content produced.  In addition, we will continue to expect that the youth media organizations build in principles of news literacy throughout the training.

For information, visit our guidelines.

The WNM initiative will become the domain of more focused news literacy programs that energize the community around quality news and relevant information.  We will consider a broad range of dynamic projects to engage young people with news. 

We seek to support activities that help teachers bring news literacy activities into their classrooms. We hope to work with networks of schools willing to establish comprehensive news literacy approaches.  We are looking to document the impact of news literacy training on critical thinking skills.  That could lead the way for support of policy efforts that specifically recognize news literacy as part of the common core curriculum.  We also will give a hard look to news literacy projects that help students cope with “other” literacies such as health, personal finance, digital and civics.  

Col. Robert R. McCormick’s unwavering support of press freedoms is a cornerstone of the Journalism Program.  We will continue to parlay this tradition of funding legal protection for journalists with support for projects that address government transparency, accessibility, accountability and civic education.

The McCormick Foundation has evolved into more of a place-based grantmaking organization. The Journalism Program has joined forces with our colleagues in the Civics, Education and Veterans programs to tackle some of the most difficult issues facing the Chicago area.  We will consider journalistic-based proposals that deal with such topics as fiscal policy, regional planning, reducing youth violence and sustaining the nonprofit sector. 

 McCormick President and CEO David Hiller recently said: “We find enormous optimism---at a time when our region faces daunting challenges---in the extraordinary work of engaged citizens and civic organizations. Concerned citizens are waging a multi-front battle for the future of our city and state. From gun violence to bankrupt fiscal policy, now is the time to stand up and be engaged.”

News literacy and journalistic content will certainly play major roles in this effort to reinforce civic health.  We look forward to reviewing your ideas.  To begin the application process, click here.

Journalism Program Director
McCormick Foundation

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