The National Trust for Local News envisions a new future for community news

Nonprofit partners with the Colorado Sun to acquire 24 community newspapers.

Aliya Hall  - November 29, 2021

The National Trust for Local News is on a mission to keep local news in local hands.

The nonprofit made headlines earlier this year after partnering with the Colorado Sun to acquire 24 family-owned community newspapers in the Denver metro area and creating the Colorado Media Conservancy, which is majority-owned and operated by the Colorado Sun.

The Trust works with communities to catalyze capital, business model transformations and new ownership structures to help local and community news organizations thrive.

“We really feel like these are missing ingredients to that rebuilding (of local news) that makes our work different and critical,” said Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and Co-Founder of National Trust for Local News.

While the trust officially incorporated in March of this year, Hansen Shapiro and co-founder Marc Hand originally published a concept paper for the trust in October 2020.

Hansen Shapiro, who is also a senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School with a focus on new sustainability practices and public policies to support local news, said there are existing interesting membership models and best practices emerging around audience revenue and engagement. But they identified two pieces missing: socially rich capital and new ownership structures.

“With all the conversation around newspaper deserts and newspapers closing, it became clear to me there were some real issues around who owns news and who has been owning news ⁠— that hasn’t been addressed,” she said.

The National Trust for Local News currently works with two different groups: publishers who need help creating a succession plan, and local partners that care about the future of news in their community but don’t know how to help.

“They want their papers to stay alive,” she said.

As a nonprofit, philanthropy is a crucial part of the trust. Hansen Shapiro said they are supported by national philanthropic organizations as well as funders in the communities the Trust works in. For the Colorado Media Conservancy, she explained that a group of both local and national funders made the acquisition possible.

“In that role, it’s really philanthropic organizations…helping unlock new forms of support for preserving and transforming local news,” she said.

The biggest challenge for the Trust is recognizing where the opportunities are, and what they need to pass on. Publications with collapsed business models who haven’t invested in new technology or growing their audience or new products would take more resources, time and investment, Hansen Shapiro said.

Her biggest piece of advice for publishers is to determine what value they provide. “What do people need that you provide, or could provide?” she asks. Publishers also need to identify who the biggest stakeholders and supporters are in the community.

“All those relationships are critical for long term sustainability,” she said. “The biggest piece is to start building those relationships in any way you can.”

In 2022, The National Trust for Local News will be expanding their work in five states. Hansen Shapiro wants to include stakeholders at the beginning of the process to make it easier to put structure and funding into place.

“We’re just trying to understand what this model looks like so we can scale it cross country,” she said. 

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