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Santa Barbara Foundation Receives $500,000 Matching Grant to Launch Journalism Initiative

Nonprofit project will explore investigative and explanatory reporting on the South Coast

The Santa Barbara Foundation has received a $500,000 matching grant over two years from the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help launch the Santa Barbara Journalism Initiative, a nonprofit enterprise journalism project for investigative and explanatory reporting on the South Coast.

Enterprise pieces will be produced annually, with shorter pieces as appropriate, as well as monthly explanatory pieces. These news pieces will be posted on the initiative’s website, creating avenues for citizen engagement extending beyond traditional social network opportunities, and offering community interaction specific to published pieces.

It is not the intent of the initiative to cover breaking news stories, but to provide more in-depth coverage exploring the root causes of the major issues affecting the community.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the people and communities of this county,” said Ronald Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation. “This initiative will provide much-needed additional depth to the able coverage of local and regional news already offered by our media community. It is unarguable that a more informed citizenry demands better public policy and contributes mightily to a strong democracy.”

It was originally the brainchild of five local citizens — Melinda Burns, a former senior writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press; Richard Flacks, a professor emeritus of sociology at UC Santa Barbara; Hap Freund, formerly head of Santa Barbara Channels community television; Abe Peck, professor emeritus of journalism in service at Northwestern University; and Warren Schultheis, the creator and founder of City 2.0, a local blog network.

SBJI was conceived as a complement to local, county news, gaining local and national support for independent, in-depth reporting. The Santa Barbara Foundation, The Fund for Santa Barbara, the James S. Bower Foundation and the McCune Foundation were the primary providers of seed money for the research that went into the successful proposal receiving the grant from the Knight Foundation.

The initiative will be housed at the Miller McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, an existing nonprofit organization with media expertise, and overseen by an executive advisory board comprised of individuals with deep media experience, foundation representatives and key community leaders.

Steven Ainsley, a former publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press, is the board’s first chair. A search is imminent to find the initiative’s first editor. SBJI will encourage collaboration and partnership among existing media outlets in the community. In addition, media partnership grants will be offered to solidify partnerships and strengthen the enterprise journalism skills and opportunities of local media.

The funding is part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, which engages community and place-based foundations in supporting news and information projects that inform and engage residents. As traditional media have struggled, funders have increasingly realized how integral good information is to all their areas of interest, whether coverage is focused on education, housing, health or the arts. Community foundations, now celebrating 100 years of service and leadership, and the larger field of place-based foundations, are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role on this issue. So far, close to 80 local foundations nationwide have launched news-enhancement projects.

Through SBJI, local news will be enhanced with thought-provoking, in-depth reporting about Santa Barbara County, collaborating with local media to strengthen journalism in the public interest and encourage debate for a more informed, engaged and democratic civic life.

Jessica Tade is the communications and marketing manager for the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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