A new leader for Press Forward, at a pivotal moment for journalism

February 23, 2024
The 2024 Knight Library Conference in Miami, February 20. Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui for the Knight Foundation.

Dale R. Anglin has spent more than twenty years in the nonprofit sector, channeling millions of dollars to social service organizations. Among those projects was Cleveland Documenters, a local initiative that paid hundreds of residents to take notes at government meetings and then expanded to regular reporting and investigative pieces as the nonprofit news outlet Signal Cleveland. “You need people with a journalism background, and you need others like me, who have more of a community and philanthropy background,” she said.

That combination will now come into play on a much grander scale. Anglin, who has never worked in a newsroom, was named last week as the unexpected choice to lead Press Forward, funded by a coalition of twenty-two philanthropic organizations, including the Knight Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. In that role, she’ll lead the effort to give away at least half a billion dollars over the next five years, raise another half billion within that time frame, and help inspire America’s troubled local news business. 

“This is going to be a slightly iterative process,” Anglin told CJR earlier this week. “Once money starts to go out the door, what are we learning from those grantees? How are we as a group processing what we’re learning?” Anglin added that she was drawn to the job because it was a collaboration between several donors: “I think of it like an orchestra. You do need a conductor.” 

It was her fresh eye that attracted funders as well. “Dale stood out in a very strong pool as someone who brought a number of complementary strengths to what is a national leadership position,” John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation, told CJR. He said she brings a “trifecta” of skills, given her work in philanthropy and local journalism funding and within communities. “Finding the person who would bring the right mix of skills was the challenge of the search, not finding somebody willing to do it,” he said. 

That rings true to Ken Doctor, a respected analyst of the news business who is now leading Lookout Local, a digital news outlet based in Santa Cruz, California. 

Anglin’s background gives her both a “breadth of experience” and a “fresh view,” he said. “We would hope she is passionate enough not to be romantic about the old days.”

When she starts, on March 11, Anglin will be tasked with overseeing Press Forward’s use of the $500 million that donors committed to it. There are three ways the money will be put to work. The first is through what Press Forward is calling “aligned grantmaking,” where foundations partnering with Press Forward will decide which news organizations or reporting issues to fund. The second will put some of the money pledged by these foundations into a national pooled fund that Anglin and the board of Press Forward will manage. This fund currently sits at around $70 million. The third component is through establishing local groups to raise money in a given community. 

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Press Forward has already gotten started. Since last fall, the organization has set up shop in six states, establishing “chapters” composed of donors, local news outlets, and community members. On Wednesday, Press Forward announced that it would expand into eleven more states, including Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Wyoming. These chapters, responsible for financially and developmentally supporting news initiatives in their area, can now apply for up to $250,000 in “catalyst funds.” Anglin expects this effort to occupy a lot of her time as she gets settled.

The seeds of Press Forward were announced last June in an essay by Palfrey, in which he explained that MacArthur was wrapping up investments in such challenges as climate change, nuclear weapons, and criminal justice. Next, he said, the foundation would double down on revitalizing local news, to “catalyze greater philanthropic attention, interest, and investment, particularly by regional and local donors.”

The MacArthur Foundation is committing $175 million to Press Forward’s pool. The rest is coming from Knight ($150 million), Hewlett ($10 million), the Carnegie Corporation ($5 million), and other donors that have not yet publicly shared what they are contributing.

Anglin’s interest in community work came from her mother, who was a high school English teacher in Chicago. After graduating from Smith College, Anglin enrolled in a master’s program in public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on child development and government. “I realized that the work I wanted to do was probably in the nonprofit space,” Anglin said. Her first job after grad school was as an analyst for the Congressional Research Service, working on issues relating to families, childcare, and health. She eventually left for Newark, New Jersey, where she worked for the New Community Corporation, an organization that facilitates community programs, and later the Victoria Foundation, which partners with marginalized communities to improve living standards and engagement. 

In Newark, Anglin was able to deepen her focus on kids and young people. She oversaw several youth educational and employment programs at the Victoria Foundation. And she’s going into her role at Press Forward with kids and young adults still top of mind. “If we want to be thinking about Press Forward for the next ten years, where are the young people right now? How are they thinking about how they get their news?” Anglin said. “They’re our customers a few years from now.”  

Anglin’s job is not to use the $500 million to plant seeds everywhere, said Palfrey. 

Instead, she’ll want to identify and fund the best examples of local news success, which can then be replicated elsewhere. “Good catalytic philanthropy is not about what I call spreading the peanut butter, trying to have a very even set of funding everywhere regardless of their quality,” Palfrey said. “It’s a little more chunky in terms of trying to support different examples that will help to point the way toward a sustainable future for local news.” 

But how the best examples will be determined is unclear, said Doctor, who thinks Anglin is faced with several conflicting choices. It could be funding collaborations between different news outlets, channeling funds to rural areas where news deserts are particularly pronounced, targeting traditionally disenfranchised and underrepresented communities, or replacing daily newspapers that have gone bust. Doctor thinks the fourth option is the way to go. 

“The biggest questions are how they decide who gets the money. There’s been a lot of talk about picking ‘winners,’” Doctor said. “What does ‘winners’ mean?”

Meanwhile, Press Forward’s gradual rollout has frozen some funding efforts at newsrooms across the country, according to Dick Tofel, former president of ProPublica. Some donors—those involved with the coalition and those outside of it—have delayed funding their recipients until they knew what Press Forward, MacArthur, and Knight were doing. “People like to see what the large institutions are doing. They are looking to the leading organizations for leadership,” Tofel said. 

Anglin will also be tasked with helping to change the perception of news, said Palfrey, so local donors see it as an attractive project, like a symphony orchestra or a community hospital. There needs to be more than the initial $500 million to solve the problem of local news, he said, which is why the next $500 million must be raised locally. And those lessons will need to be spread widely, to see if what works in rural Mississippi is replicable in a big city like Chicago or Philadelphia.

Anglin said that sustainability and revenue diversification are key. “Like anything in philanthropy, you give out the dollars, and three years later, you need to give it out again, and not all funders are willing to do that, to be honest,” she said.

Palfrey added that the cash isn’t just for nonprofits. Even though “it is time for us to declare in local news that the predominant business model is nonprofit or little profit,” he said, Press Forward will fund some for-profit newsrooms. 

Tofel advised caution. 

“It is almost always a mistake for philanthropy to declare success at the moment funding is announced for something. Any sense of triumphalism here is wildly premature,” he said. “There is potential for more money to make a difference.… The hard work will begin when grants are made and then news organizations start to deploy that money in pursuit of their own goals, and only after that are we going to be able to tell if this effort is successful.” 

Feven Merid and Ayodeji Rotinwa are on staff at CJR. Merid is CJR’s staff writer and Senior Delacorte Fellow. Rotinwa is a CJR fellow.