Eleven years before the Declaration of Independence, John Adams declared, “Liberty of the people cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” A similar rationale inspired the Center for Michigan to launch Bridge Magazine in 2011. We saw then – and continue to see today - a public information crisis.
Michigan has lost 40 percent of its professional journalists to retirement, buyouts, and newsroom cuts since the 1990s. Through no fault of the talented but over-worked reporters and editors who remain in newspapers, the public receives far less factual, in-depth news coverage than in the past. Today’s journalists are simply out-numbered. Too many important public deliberations and documents receive far less fact-driven coverage and scrutiny than they used to. Too many kitchen-table issues deserve better explanation.
And in this age of social-media-driven alternative facts, fake news, and hyper-partisanship, the public service mission of journalism continually grows both tougher and more important.
That’s why we at Bridge Magazine are so thrilled with this week’s announcement that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Ford foundations are making a new, $2.3 million investment in nonprofit journalism in Detroit and southeast Michigan. The Knight Foundation has invested a portion of these funds in Bridge to deepen our ongoing coverage of Detroit through the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.
For the past three years, Bridge has collaborated on a wide range of in-depth, multimedia journalism projects with our nonprofit DJC partners: Michigan Radio, WDET, Detroit Public Television, and New Michigan Media. Last year, for example, our year-long “Intersection” project traced 50 years of societal change outward from the Detroit street corner where the 1967 civil unrest began. The concluding chapter of The Intersection – “He Started the Detroit Riot. His Son Wrestles with the Carnage” – may be the finest work Bridge has ever produced. The Intersection will be available in book form this spring – again thanks to support from the Knight Foundation.
Renewed Knight Foundation support for Bridge through 2018 allows us to add “Michigan Journalist of the Year” Joel Kurth to our staff. Kurth will oversee Bridge coverage of Detroit neighborhoods, city hall, schools, justice issues and this year’s municipal elections. What can readers expect? Authentic, in-depth, fact-driven news – informed by diverse Detroiters because our team is on the street, every day, listening to Detroiters. That’s how we learn to question deep problems in individual city schools and explain how a new water bill spike taxes the finances and patience of religious congregations across the city.
The importance and public service potential of philanthropic investment in Michigan journalism extends well beyond any one particular grant. With this investment, and many others nationwide, the Knight and Ford foundations are leading a revolution in how local news is produced, collaborated, delivered to readers – and funded.
Published each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, Bridge has grown into an impactful statewide publication with a staff of seven professional journalists with more than 200 years’ experience covering the people, politics, and issues of Michigan. More than one million people read Bridge in 2016. For the second straight year, Bridge has earned “Newspaper of the Year” honors from the Michigan Press Association. For the second straight year, Bridge has earned an “Advancement of Justice” award from the State Bar of Michigan – this year for investigation of the Flint Water Crisis.
High-quality, in-depth journalism takes time. And money. Bridge has grown rapidly in the past five and a half years only through the generous support of philanthropy and readers.
We are deeply grateful for the renewed Knight Foundation funding announced this week. We are equally grateful for generous support provided by our founders (Philip and Kathy Power and the Power Family Foundation), the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Consumers Energy Foundation, Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, DTE Energy Foundation, Frey Foundation, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Masco Corporation Foundation, McGregor Fund, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the United Ways of Michigan, Van Dusen Family Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, our corporate funders (Amway, Dominos, and Meijer), and our publishing partners (Crain’s Detroit Business, the Michigan Press Association, and Southwest Michigan First).
Perhaps most important of all over the long term, we are grateful to the more than 2,000 individual readers who financially support Bridge through their donations. Every individual donation is doubled and sometimes tripled through generous philanthropic matching programs. Indeed, our philanthropic investors expect us to continually build public support – to sustain Bridge and the Center for Michigan over the long haul.
We are extremely fortunate to attract such diverse financial support for our work. Yet everywhere we go, our staff receives challenges from citizens, public officials, and fellow journalists to do more. As I regularly respond, Bridge has a talented platoon of journalists, but we need a battalion to fully cover all the issues of public importance in this state.
We aspire to provide much deeper state capitol coverage. We aspire to greatly deepen coverage of how changes in federal health policy may impact Michigan families, workers and employers. We aspire to add a full-time reporter to cover the environment and the “Pure Michigan” economy. We aspire to provide much deeper coverage of criminal justice and civil courts. We aspire to increase our coverage of the Michigan economy and businesses large and small. And we aspire to continually expand our public engagement programs to collect and amplify the priorities of Michigan residents.
So, we’ll keep pursuing philanthropic support. And we’ll continue to ask Bridge readers to contribute. Because there’s so much more work to do.
All of our funders – from retirees on fixed incomes who send us $25 to major state and national philanthropies – are investing in an engaged and informed public. It is hard for even journalists to put into words how much this means to us – and how much it drives our commitment to deliver the most engaging, insightful, thoughtful, fair, and fact-driven journalism Bridge can possibly produce.
A hateful slogan gained hopefully short-lived social media prominence last year: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.” At Bridge, we agree that some assembly is required. But it’s not about lynching journalists. It’s about re-assembling a free and vibrant press to work in the public interest.
It’s about answering John Adams’ call for liberty through “a general knowledge among the people.”