By Amy L. Kovac-Ashley
Earlier this year, I stood before about 80 thinkers and doers in the journalism industry and asked them to imagine the best future for local news. I challenged them to think beyond the next year, the next election cycle, the next decade and to take the long view. What would it — could it — look like in 2040? Who would it serve? What would its impact be? How would it be sustained?
I left them with this question: When you look back on this time, what is it you want to have done to advance the goal?
It’s a question I often ponder. It keeps me moving toward the mission of building, nurturing and supporting teams in service of producing journalism that informs and engages communities.
The answer to that question right now is at the heart of my decision to take a new professional leap: I’m humbled and honored to join the team of the Tiny News Collective as its executive director in 2024.
I wasn’t one of those kids who knew they wanted to be a journalist. I never worked on my middle school or high school newspaper, and I never considered journalism to be a career or goal that seemed viable for me. As a first-generation college student, my focus was on graduating with a four-year degree and getting a stable job, perhaps as a lawyer or a teacher.
All that changed in 1998. I was studying in Moscow during the height of the ruble crisis, and watched as it shook the community around me. The necessity of the news to understand and survive was on full display for me. That’s when the journalism world opened up to me. I’ve been part of this beautiful, challenging and constantly changing industry ever since.
I’ve been fortunate to work in a lot of different spaces in journalism — small and large; rural, suburban and urban; and legacy and entrepreneurial shops. I’ve seen the best of what journalism and journalists can do — and some of the worst. For the last dozen years, I’ve been out of the newsroom but still in the field, first in academia and now in the journalism support space. In that time, I’ve worked with for-profit and nonprofit media of all shapes and sizes and have spent a lot of time thinking and helping others think about organizational culture and development, all in service of communities’ news and information needs.
Throughout my career, what has given me the most joy – and has made the most difference – has been advising, supporting and partnering with individual leaders and small teams. It is a dream and a privilege to now to do that in service of early-stage news founders across the country. Being able to build up a team of people and grow an organization whose sole purpose is to serve those innovators is what makes this leap even more thrilling.
As a fellow grantee of the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund in 2020 and 2021, I was privileged to learn early on about the questions that Aron Pilhofer, Heather Bryant and Tyler Fisher were asking about the gaps in local and community news, before they ever conceived of the Tiny News Collective. I admired how they turned those questions into a hypothesis that became the basis for building TNC. And I’ve cheered on their success — and that of the many TNC founders — from my own perch in the journalism support space.
What they, their board and partners have created is both unique and necessary. One need not look any further than the latest edition of The State of Local News to prove that out.
Released by Medill just a few weeks ago, the 2023 report showed that the decline of local news across the country has continued to quicken. The situation is so dire that Penny Abernathy, the study’s lead author, emphasized in paragraph one of the executive summary “that urgent action is needed in many venues — from boardrooms to the halls of Congress — and by many, including civic-minded organizations and entrepreneurs [emphasis added].”
I’m sure that Abernathy didn’t mean to make the case for the Tiny News Collective in that statement. But she did a marvelous job of it. It’s a clarion call for future news founders — and it is for me, too.
I’m drawn to this work because the Tiny News Collective has defined an important and specific lane in journalism: supporting the ground-up community entrepreneurs creating a critical piece of the future of local news.
I love local news and believe we are experiencing a renaissance of it, just as the dominant system is waning. That renaissance is the result of the growth of hundreds of new non-profit and for-profit news organizations and burgeoning ecosystems across the country in the last 15 years. The better future of local news that I envision is an acceleration of that growth — with many, many more news organizations of all kinds serving many more populations around the country. In this vision, counties, towns and cities around the country will see many more outlets serving their needs, not just with news and information but also shared community experiences delivered in innovative and meaningful ways.
What Tiny News Collective is doing is breaking old patterns and forming new ones. By focusing first on communities, especially those not served by traditional media, and by baking in the ingredients for sustainability — access to knowledge networks, tools, resources — from the start, TNC provides the infrastructure for new kinds of organizations to be born and to thrive.
And now, as I step into this new role, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to be able to support and nurture this new wave of news founders and the organizations they build.
I can’t wait to join the team — of staff, the board and partners — that has shaped and molded this essential organization. They have created a culture of collaboration, inclusion and belonging that is core to everything that they do. And I’m honored to lead and learn alongside them. Onward!
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