May 19, 2020; Detroit Free Press
Nonprofit journalism continues to evolve as for-profits pillage and then desert local papers. As they evolve, many are joining with others in their regions to create their own news ecologies. Here, we see new organizations being established under a very different theory than the old. Where the principle was once straight competition, or
“survival of the fittest,” now we’re looking at “survival of the fitting,” where “fitting” means both meshing with the rest of the field and making that field more responsive to the larger system. This story is a good example of how that works, as a little bit of old mixes with some new, giving birth to another nonprofit news organization in Detroit.
The new player is made up of seasoned journalists and is led by an old hand at journalism: Steven Henderson, who will be executive editor at BridgeDetroit, which sees its niche as collecting the opinions and priorities of Detroiters to influence other local news organizations’ coverage.
Henderson says the new organization will systematically ask Detroiters “about challenges and issues they have with information in their lives” and publish a monthly report about what it learns.
BridgeDetroit is not launching without support or partners; it is a project of the Center for Michigan, which is the umbrella for the statewide Bridge Michigan. It is also partnered with an endeavor called Outlier Media, a nonprofit that can text information about housing, utilities, food, jobs, health, and safety. BridgeDetroit will use Outlier’s system to answer reader questions. On top of all that, it plans to partner with Detroit Public Television, WDET and the Free Press, providing free content and information.
Finally, it already has $5.5 million in hand from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Skillman Foundation.
In the end, what we have here is an interesting case study in the building of a field where for-profits have suffered spectacular and dangerous market failures from prioritizing profit over purpose—when “purpose” is both primary and necessary to the health of our communities.—Ruth McCambridge