Medill Local News Accelerator aims to support Chicago outlets


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation gave a $2.4 million grant to Medill for the Local News Accelerator.

Casey He, Reporter

Over the past several decades, national publications have increasingly replaced hometown newspapers at newsstands across the country — and for media professionals, this reflects the downward trajectory of the local news industry. The U.S. is expected to lose one-third of its remaining newspapers by 2025, the Medill Local News Initiative reported in June.

The trend is one of the reasons behind the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications’ new program: the Medill Local News Accelerator. 

Launched this year, the accelerator is funded primarily by a $2.4 million grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, announced last month. Housed on Medill’s Chicago campus, it will collaborate with news outlets in the Chicago area and provide them with research and expertise on audience engagement and financial strategy.

Medill Prof. Tim Franklin, who leads two existing Medill-based local news support programs in the Local News Initiative and the Metro Media Lab, said the accelerator will allow journalists to work long-term with Medill researchers and faculty.

“This is a critical moment in time when local news organizations need (research and development) help, and they need the kind of expertise and tools that Medill is uniquely positioned to provide,” Franklin said. 

Medill Dean Charles Whitaker said the accelerator seeks to support news organizations holistically by enhancing content creation and focusing on business aspects of the news industry.

Medill is also developing an immersive program with the Kellogg School of Management and outside experts to train Chicago media leaders in managing their publications, he added.

“I think it’s important for an institution like Medill to not simply be a training ground for the next generation of journalists and storytellers,” Whitaker said, “but to also insert ourselves in the media ecosystem in an effort to try to cure what’s ailing local news.”

Though the accelerator is currently in the planning stages, Whitaker said Medill has formed a faculty working group and expects to hire a program director in the coming weeks.

The accelerator donation is not the first time the McCormick Foundation has funded local news through Medill. In 2020, the Foundation also contributed $1 million to launch the Metro Media Lab.

The Metro Media Lab organizes yearlong partnerships with news outlets. Franklin said its newest cohort of partners includes the Evanston RoundTable, Wednesday Journal, The TRiiBE and McKinley Park News. The lab has collaborated with the publications on audience behavior research, search engine optimization and newsletter development.

The success of the Metro Media Lab helped Medill secure the second grant from the McCormick Foundation last month, Franklin said.

Andrés Torres, director of strategy, planning and operations for the McCormick Foundation, said the group is particularly interested in researching sustainable business models for local news organizations.

“Medill has really taken a deeper interest and made a deeper investment in local news,” Torres said. “This (grant) is a way to build on that higher interest and extend that investment, so it can continue to benefit not just local outlets, but (also) the communities and consumers that they serve.”

Franklin said aiding area outlets has broad implications. Research has shown a lack of local news contributes to increased government spending and a drop in civil participation and voter turnout in local elections, he said. 

Medill’s range of data scientists and experienced faculty can help tackle these issues, he added. 

“I think Medill is unique in the country in the resources and the expertise it has,” Franklin said. “We want to provide new insights through research that leads to action.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @caseeey_he

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