Democracy Fund

The Democracy Fund invests in organizations working to ensure that our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people.

Democracy Fund


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  • Project Overview

Understanding How the Public Gains Information

Original reporting, informed dialogue, and sharp debate all feed democracy in U.S. communities. But local news outlets are dwindling as audiences and advertisers shift to digital and mobile platforms, often with a smaller footprint — leaving media deserts in locations where coverage once flourished.

At the same time, promising local journalism experiments are cropping up across the country. Foundations and for-profit players are investing in innovative outlets as well as tools and models that cut reporting costs and support civic engagement around breaking topics. How can these promising sprouts be widely seeded and fully cultivated?

More broadly, how can we better understand and effectively address the dynamics that shape how people learn about local issues, and about ways to participate in the civic life of their communities?

The map incorporates public attitudes and behaviors, journalism industry practices and challenges, economic forces, government policy, and more. Taken together in the context of their respective relationships, these factors yield a core story with positive and negative dimensions.

Internet technologies have increased the ability of individuals to create and distribute their own content as well as the content of others, fueling new interest and opportunities for civic engagement. Internet technologies have also led to changed advertising and distribution models that are driving a decrease in the amount of coverage and quality of reporting available locally. In response to these trends, new entrants as well as incumbents are experimenting furiously with new models and only sometimes succeeding; all but the largest face steady erosion of their viability.

Mapping the Local News & Participation system is a way to bring new understanding to all who want to support active citizens and vibrant media as vital elements in a healthy democracy.

Gaining inputs from a group of local news analysts, editors, journalists, funders, and other stakeholders, the Democracy Fund has generated a working map of this system — starting with the reality that the Internet is transforming the dynamics of local news and providing remarkable new opportunities for public engagement.

Version 1 of the map centers on the powerful economic shifts that have jolted the local news landscape, and on the innovative efforts to create and sustain digital approaches for reporting and public dialogue. The map is grounded in key factors that affect the health of democracy.

The map depicts the intersecting forces that shape the markets, missions, and practices of those providing news to inform participation and democratic decisionmaking in cities and states. It is ever-evolving and we hope it will be used and improved by a community of players active in this field.

The map’s multiple factors are organized in a series of loops or subsystems. Loops are characterized by the connections made between individual factors, and reflect how the increase (+) or decrease (-) in the significance of a given factor affects other related factors.

As you view each loop, you will find associated research, case studies, and both supporting and any countervailing evidence.

The Democracy Fund Invites You to Use and Improve This Map.

The Local News & Participation map is an open-source tool that welcomes engagement by researchers, media companies, government and nonprofit agencies, funders, and others. Through user involvement, we expect this map to be made more accurate, complete, and practical as a vehicle for improving how the public gains access to information and participates in democracy.

You can explore the Local News & Participation map and its elements here. As you do, we hope you will tell us how to better describe and illuminate the dynamics of the Local News & Participation system. Throughout 2016, we will hold webinars and work sessions to involve new perspectives and strengthen this map. Please contact us at to share your feedback or related resources for the map.