The American Journalism Project, an initiative aimed at boosting nonprofit journalism around the country, announced Tuesday it’s awarded Block Club Chicago a three-year, $1.6 million grant to grow the business side of its operation.
In conjunction with the American Journalism Project grant, the Chicago Community Trust pledged an additional $450,000 in matching funds to Block Club over three years.
The funding is part of the American Journalism Project’s 2022 investment in newsrooms. Three other nonprofit newsrooms were selected to receive grants: Sahan Journal in Minnesota, San José Spotlight and Spotlight PA. The American Journalism Project has now awarded more than $30 million in grants to 31 newsrooms.
Block Club, which was founded by three editors of the former DNAinfo Chicago news site, will use the funding to add business- and operational-side positions and projects. A key part of the grant will be used to create five business positions in the first half of 2022.
The creation of those positions will allow for the continued expansion of Block Club’s editorial team. Block Club recently announced a plan to add a new neighborhood reporter through Report For America. More new editorial positions will be announced this year.
“Ever since we announced our launch, we’ve been extremely proud of the way Chicago has embraced us. The American Journalism Project’s investment in Block Club Chicago is a wonderful vote of confidence in what we’re doing — and what we can grow to become,” said Shamus Toomey, Block Club’s publisher and one of three co-founders. “And we thank the Chicago Community Trust for stepping up — again — to support local journalism.”
“Local news isn’t dying, it’s evolving,” said Jen Sabella, Block Club’s co-executive editor and one of three co-founders. “The support from Chicagoans for our ultra-local newsroom has been overwhelming, proving that newsrooms don’t need to abandon the boots-on-the-ground basics — they just need to be responsive to the communities they cover.”
“When full-time reporters are embedded in the communities they cover instead of parachuting in, they’re able to report with context, respect and deep knowledge of a neighborhood,” said Stephanie Lulay, Block Club’s co-executive editor and one of three co-founders. “This ground-level approach builds trust with readers and leads to a more accurate portrayal of our city. Thanks to the support of the American Journalism Project and the Chicago Community Trust, we’re excited to give all Chicago neighborhoods the dedicated coverage they deserve.”
Block Club Chicago launched in 2018, just months after the abrupt closure of DNAinfo. Toomey, Sabella and Lulay teamed with former reporters from the award-winning news site to create a newsroom with the same local focus, but with a membership-based funding model. The site launched as a nonprofit, joining a growing network of 501(c)(3) news sites around the country.
Block Club started with three editors and five reporters. Thanks to the support of more than 18,000 paid members and philanthropic organizations, it now boasts five editors, 12 reporters, a development director, a photographer and a newsletter manager who also runs its free, award-winning COVID-19 hotline. Block Club also relies on a network of freelance reporters — and hundreds of tipsters around the city.
In late 2021, Block Club was named Best Online-Only News Site by Editor & Publisher and Publisher of the Year by the LION (Local Independent Online News). Breaking News Editor Kelly Bauer was honored as the Chicago Journalist Association’s Journalist of the Year for her work exposing the vaccine scandal at Loretto Hospital and her work leading Block Club’s COVID-19 coverage.
The American Journalism Project gives local news organizations money needed to grow their business teams and their revenue capacity, and it provides strategic support to build upon their success and ensure their sustainable growth.
Related: Local News Rebirth in Chicago: ‘More Exciting Than It’s Ever Been’ (Local News Initiative)
The American Journalism Project also announced Tuesday it will receive funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which has also funded Block Club.
“The MacArthur Foundation is pleased to join our peer funders in supporting the American Journalism Project,” said Kathy Im, director of Journalism and Media at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “As we continue to confront threats to a free press, fact-based news, and the spread of mis- and disinformation, the American Journalism Project is among the leading innovations and interventions in the journalism space that is helping to support and sustain a new generation of vitally important and much needed nonprofit newsrooms.”
“We are grateful for partners like the MacArthur Foundation who believe in our mission and the work we’re doing to rebuild this vital part of our democracy — they make our investments in local news possible,” said Sarabeth Berman, CEO of the American Journalism Project. “Focused on, and working with, diverse communities, and leading in accountability journalism, Block Club Chicago, Sahan Journal, San José Spotlight and Spotlight PA represent the future we envision for local news. We are looking forward to supporting their growth and sustainability.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: