Dale R. Anglin grew up in a family of news junkies. If the Chicago Sun-Times wasn’t delivered punctually to their home on Chicago’s South Side, her mom wasn’t happy. Yet at the same time, Anglin realized the news her family needed wasn’t just delivered in that newspaper. Every Sunday, her grandmother insisted on reading her church’s news bulletin.
“She had to have that every week. And if she didn’t go to the service, she would call my mom and ask her to bring it to her,’” Anglin recalled.
“What we even think of as news needs to be broadened.”
Investing in news and information as a grantmaker came naturally to Anglin, who led the effort to create a regional news nonprofit in Cleveland, where she served as vice president for proactive grantmaking at the Cleveland Foundation.
As Press Forward’s inaugural director, Anglin will lead a movement to reinvigorate local news by bringing more funders into the fold and helping to deploy millions in funding to news initiatives across the country.
Here’s a look at Anglin’s career and how she will approach her role at Press Forward.
Q. Why Press Forward?
DRA: It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to support an issue and sector vital to our democracy. And it’s an opportunity to apply my skills in philanthropy, fundraising, public policy and donor and grantee collaboratives. The four funding priorities of the initiative spoke to me: supporting equity, sustainability, policy and infrastructure in local news. We need to succeed at all of them to create the civic media and journalism ecosystem we all want.
Q. You were a grantmaker for years before you began investing in local news and information. Why did you start?
DRA: My first investment in local news as a grantmaker was in NJ Spotlight, one of the first online news initiatives. We invested because they promised to cover education, a priority of the Victoria Foundation where I was head of programs. I had an up-close view of how hard Editor and Founder John Mooney worked to launch, and I saw the impact he made when he covered stories that resonated with the public.
With that success, we helped launch Chalkbeat in Newark to focus even more directly on education in the city. Both times, I saw journalism as a tool to support one of our foundation’s priority strategies.
Q. What part of the Cleveland Foundation’s investments in nonprofit news are you most proud of?
DRA: I’m most proud of the strategy to fund an ecosystem of civic news and journalism: Documenters; Signal; the community news site the Land; the Buckeye Flame, focused on the LGTBQ+ community; WOVU community radio; Ideastream public media; and the Marshall Project, which covers the justice system.
Through intense research and listening to the community, we learned that we need a range of sources of information to support the foundation’s priority strategies and to meet the needs of residents in our three counties.
Q. You worked at the oldest community foundation in the country, which has a legacy of impact on a variety of community issues. How did you encourage the foundation to invest in journalism?
DRA: The Cleveland Foundation prides itself on working with partners to understand Greater Cleveland’s challenges. As we investigated adult literacy in Cleveland and the demand for truly accessible information, we realized we needed new and different civic media solutions.
At the same time, as we talked to residents about engagement and civic action, we realized we needed new ways to equip residents with the information they can use to act. In addition to supporting our existing ecosystem, we were enthralled with the Documenters model, where residents are trained to cover city meetings, as we did not have good coverage of our local public meetings. When we saw the success of Documenters in just one year, the leap to investing in a full nonprofit news initiative with help from the American Journalism Project seemed not only possible but also vital. Over time, our staff and the board came to understand that no matter what strategy we were pursuing, access to local news and information in a wide variety of forms was an important tool in growing our civic infrastructure and for our community to understand its own issues. Signal Cleveland has grown to more than 13,000 subscribers in just over a year, showing demand for its services.
Q. You’ve talked about the importance of finding new models to conduct local journalism in communities – about finding a third way. What does that mean?
DRA: I think we can all agree that our world has not only changed but also that the changes are coming faster. We are starved for connection across divides. We lack trust in most of our major institutions. People want and consume information in a wide variety of modalities. We know proximity supports trust building. Local journalism is proximity. It provides knowledge and information that’s not only important for quality-of-life decisions but also can serve as a powerful mechanism for motivating people to take action.
Local journalism is proximity. It provides knowledge and information that’s not only important for quality-of-life decisions but also can serve as a powerful mechanism for motivating people to take action.
I love the delicate balance in many of our local journalistic endeavors of providing investigative journalism and community and civic information. We want to equip our communities so they can help themselves. How do we meet residents where they are? Signal Cleveland’s Spelling Bee, the El Paso (Texas) Matters book clubs and the Big Bend (Indiana) Sentinel’s coffee shop show me that local journalism can be a third way of connecting us.
Q. What role does equity play in investing in local journalism?
DRA: We know we have long-standing inequities in media ownership, practice and philanthropy. Our diverse country needs a wide range of civic and journalistic models. We’re not going to be able to fix this overnight. But we need to do better. I want to take time to listen to the field on how Press Forward can help the field change.
And while we need a focus on equity, we have to keep up the focus on finding sustainable models. We want to fix a wrong, and we also want to make sure that our partners can be sustained going forward. How do you do that? That’s not easy, and it requires building trust and open communication with partners.
Q. You’ve led multiple funder collaboratives in the fields of education, community violence and COVID relief. What have you learned from that time that you will carry to Press Forward?
DRA: The problems our society faces are all complex. They don’t necessarily have technical solutions. We don’t have all the answers. We need diverse partners – community, philanthropy, corporate, nonprofits, government – working together to solve them.
However, managing and sustaining funder collaboratives is challenging. Funders have different styles, time frames, values, risk tolerance and understanding of challenges. I’ve learned that attention to the process is as important as attention to the final outcomes, and gaining insights from the grantees, industry leaders and residents is important to creating a good strategy. No matter the issue, funding collaboratives move at the pace of trust, common problem definitions, agreed-upon strategies, transparency and what I like to think of as overcommunication.
Q. How do you see your role as director in the next three months?
DRA: I’m a collaborative leader who believes in radical listening. In addition to building out a small team, my first three months will include:
Listening: I plan to do some intentional listening — to journalists, funders, intermediaries, policy makers and communities — to understand their challenges and potential solutions.
Conducting: I will work to get to know the wide range of current partner funders — in Aligned Grantmaking, the Pooled Fund and with Locals — to help us create a coherent, coordinated eco-building strategy. And I will strategize with funders on deploying the first set of Pooled Fund dollars.
Communicating: I’m excited to work with the Press Forward local chapters and carry the message of Press Forward to potential new funding partners as we seek to catalyze more chapters. By design, Press Forward is a movement where all types of donors/funders can get involved, whether they care about democracy, journalism, climate or the arts. We hope funders will see these news and information endeavors as tools to support a wide range of strategies.
Q. We’re in the midst of a crisis in local news, with layoffs happening across the country. What gives you hope?
DRA: I see this as a moment for transformation. How do we build a better news and information ecosystem that has diverse revenue streams, provides investigative and civic news that spurs our community to action, encompasses a wide range of modalities and keeps community at the center?
The headlines we witnessed in the last two weeks do not reflect the hundreds of smaller journalistic endeavors that are building or maintaining their base. Let’s find a way to describe and explain to the American public that we are working to provide them with the information they need but in a wider array of mechanisms than before.