Halloween’s over. Thanksgiving is just coming a bit into focus and it looks lovelier than last year while still a bit COVID-twisted. 

Launching right between these two notable holidays is something that is a big deal to us here at Growing Community Media, the nonprofit parent of its sister papers in Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Austin, Riverside and Brookfield. It’s NewsMatch season. Starts now and continues through every celebration right up to and including New Year’s Eve. 

What’s NewsMatch, why the heck are you a nonprofit anyhow, and do I donate by check or can I do it online?

Those are all legitimate questions. Thank you for asking.

NewsMatch is a national effort to raise funds to support nonprofit journalism as it faces the giant challenge of growing a new and sustainable model to pay for local news. The old model — and it was a great one, of selling ads and subscriptions to pay reporters, the print bill, and the rent — got run over by Facebook and Craig’s List and Google. That our industry was slow to adapt to digital hasn’t helped. 

On a nationwide level, NewsMatch raises funds from foundations and wealthy donors and then spreads that out to nonprofit newsrooms. Meanwhile the local newsrooms are expected to multiply those funds in our communities with donations from readers/members while also tapping larger matching gifts.

For a second year, Growing Community Media is among 300-plus newsrooms across America chosen to be part of NewsMatch. We’ll put that high on our gratitude list again this year. Our inclusion reflects two things. 

  1. The quality of the journalism we bring to the seven neighborhoods we cover with our four flags — Wednesday Journal, Forest Park Review, Austin Weekly News, and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.
  2. The broad support we’ve already received from more than 2,000 individuals (and climbing) who recognize that these villages and city neighborhoods need independent reporting more than ever.

Like every good nonprofit, Growing Community Media is working on a strategic plan. We did a broad survey over the summer of readers, donors, advertisers, staff and our own newly formed board. There were several thousand responses to a long list of questions. 

Here’s what stood out to me in a moment when misinformation is being expertly shared and trust in media has eroded. Ninety percent of those who responded said they trusted our reporting. Almost as many said that our deep roots and continued independence were compelling reasons they subscribed, and many became members.

Talk about gratifying. Talk about motivating.

After 39 years as a for-profit business we knew in 2019 our future was clouded by our disrupted newspaper industry. Our conclusion was that our mission wasn’t tied to an old business model. Our mission is in the reporting, the connections we foster, the voices we elevate, the conversations we create. 

So two years ago we took the pioneering step of becoming a nonprofit newsroom. Since then, with the money we have raised from small donors, middle- and large-sized donors, and several generous foundations, we have plowed money back into our small newsroom.

We’d been hemorrhaging reporters for a decade as ad revenues slowed. In the past year we created a new post of equity editor and promoted Michael Romain to that role. We hired Amanda Tugade as Wednesday Journal’s full-time education reporter. Now, with a grant from the Field Foundation, we are looking for a full-time reporter to add to our Austin Weekly News. That reporter will cover the “steady state” of the West Side, the genuine stories of people living their lives in Austin, West Garfield Park and North Lawndale. 

We’ve also expanded the role of our digital editor (newly hired Briana Higgins), promoted a development director (Mary Ellen Nelligan) and added a second person in that department (Stacy Coleman). And we remade our websites.

That’s a lot. And there is much more to accomplish.

We want you to join us. Become a part of this project. Own a piece of this effort in local democracy. 

We’ve got a NewsMatch goal. It’s $125,000. That will pay for a lot of solid reporting by our exceptionally dedicated colleagues. 

And right now because of generous local donors, we can double your donation when you visit oakpark.com/donate. Sign on as a member at $50 and we get $100. For new, recurring monthly donations, we’ll match it every month. Pledge $10 a month and your total $120 donation turns into $240.

It’s real money. Real news. Really important.

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Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...