Aspiring journalists looking for a pathway to newspaper ownership will get a leg up at West Virginia University thanks to the nation’s only fellowship program designed to maintain and strengthen local news ownership.
“Many current owners are aging and ready to retire but have no succession plans and don’t want to sell their legacy operations to media chains,” said Jim Iovino, director of NewStart, a new entrepreneurial media ownership program at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media which today announced a $200,000 investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that will help students ensure communities stay informed and local democracy thrives.
“They’re looking for people to become part of the community and own and run the paper. And we want to make sure that paper is set up for the long term.”
The year-long NewStart fellowship is for graduate students interested in becoming the next generation of community media owners and publishers. Students will work directly with local news organizations and receive extensive training on managing, operating and growing media properties. NewStart also provides a comprehensive ownership transition plan that matches potential buyers with publications that are ready for sale.
More than 90% of all newspapers in the country are small-market, with circulations of 50,000 or fewer, according to a 2017 study by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. Many of these local news outlets have been family owned for generations and remain profitable because of the demand for their hyper-local content.
NewStart works with state press associations to identify small-market, independently owned newspapers in areas with economic growth potential that are ready for transition. Iovino is also working to establish a collaborative community of media entrepreneurs, who can share best practices and work together to create a sustainable model for local journalism.
NewStart has received funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. It is also supported by the West Virginia Press Association, and other regional press associations, and is collaborating with regional development and financial institutions such as Brownfield Assistance Group, West Virginia Community Development Hub, and Mountain State Capital.
“The NewStart program targets a crucial market that is often overlooked in national journalism funding – news and information in small and rural communities,” Iovino said. “This Knight Foundation support is crucial for us to fund the fellowships, and the foundation’s support for local journalism aligns perfectly with our mission.”
Knight Foundation’s support is part of its $300 million investment in building the future of local news and information, announced in 2019.
“By focusing on rural communities, the NewStart program will help existing local news organizations maintain their important work," said LaSharah S. Bunting, Knight Foundation director for journalism. “By sustaining and advancing existing local publications, NewStart is helping ensure communities stay informed and local democracy thrives.”
The deadline to apply for the NewStart fellowship is January 30. The majority of the program is done online, but includes several in-depth, in-person workshops in Morgantown. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and have an interest in owning a local newspaper. Learn more and apply at https://www.newstart.media and follow @wvunewstart for updates.