Mercer University will continue its support of community journalism with the launch of a new local news source in Macon next year.
The recently established Georgia Trust for Local News, a nonprofit community newspaper company that will serve Middle and South Georgia, is starting the media organization as part of its broader initiative to preserve and expand community news in the state.
Supported by a commitment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Georgia Trust’s Macon effort will leverage a partnership with Mercer’s Reg Murphy Center for Collaborative Journalism, where the newsroom will be housed.
“Our years-long mission has been to address information needs in the Macon community while also training the next generation of journalists,” said Debbie Blankenship, director of the Murphy Center. “This new partnership is an exciting step that will strengthen local reporting while also expanding opportunities for our students.”
The nonprofit National Trust for Local News announced in December the establishment of the Georgia Trust for Local News.
Anchored by support from the Knight Foundation, Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and Marguerite Casey Foundation, the Georgia Trust for Local News is dedicated to empowering Georgians through community journalism that is impartial, timely and relevant.
The Georgia Trust will begin operations in January with a portfolio of 18 newspapers that serve 900,000 Georgians in communities across Middle and South Georgia. Georgia Trust titles include iconic publications with deep roots in the communities they serve, like The Albany Herald, Dublin’s Courier Herald, The Sparta Ishmaelite and The Talbotton New Era.
“We are protecting and expanding the work that these wonderful newspapers already do for nearly 1 million Georgians in the heart of our state,” said DuBose Porter, the longtime publisher of the Dublin Courier Herald Group. He will serve as the Georgia Trust’s executive director, and his newspapers will become the backbone of the Georgia Trust.
“Each of our newspapers serves a different community in a distinct way, and all will have greater resources and stronger infrastructure to provide first-rate community journalism,” he said.
The Georgia Trust will be led by a diverse group with deep roots in Georgia.
Alongside Porter, Caleb Slinkard will serve as executive editor. Slinkard was most recently Georgia editor at McClatchy, where he led the newsrooms of The Macon Telegraph and The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Longtime Georgia newspaper executive Pam Burney will serve as general manager.
“Community journalism is about strengthening our connections to each other and our understanding of the world around us,” Slinkard said. “It’s how folks keep tabs on local governments and school boards, follow high school sports and learn what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”
The National Trust combines centralized business operations with deep local partnerships, ensuring that its newspapers reflect the communities they serve. This hybrid operating model is key to the independence and sustainability of Georgia Trust publications.
By building a shared infrastructure for newspaper operations, the National Trust can protect and help grow the great work that local newsrooms already do in local communities every day.
“Local news only works when it’s created and sustained by local people,” said Lisa Borders, a member of the National Trust for Local News board of directors and former president of the Grady Health and Coca-Cola Foundations. “From supporters like the Woodruff, Casey and Knight foundations, to the journalists and staff at these iconic papers, and to leaders like DuBose, Caleb and myself, the Georgia Trust for Local News has deep roots in Georgia. We are grateful for this opportunity to serve our state.”
The Georgia Trust for Local News uses philanthropic funding to launch its work, and subscribers, advertisers and community members will sustain it.
“With this grant, Knight Foundation furthers two of our deepest commitments: to strengthening the Macon community and to supporting local news,” said Jim Brady, vice president of journalism for Knight Foundation. “We are honored to be a founding funder of the National Trust for Local News and to contribute to the growth of sustainable and independent news in Georgia.”
“Strong, sustainable and nonpartisan local news is essential to healthy communities,” Woodruff Foundation President Russ Hardin said. “We are pleased to support an effort that promises to sustain and strengthen local newspapers in Georgia.”
“The dismantling of local news disparately impacts marginalized communities,” said Marguerite Casey Foundation President and CEO Dr. Carmen Rojas. “We look forward to supporting the Georgia Trust as it uplifts the issues impacting Georgians and builds stronger community newspapers.”
An estimated 45 million Americans are at risk of losing their local newspaper, according to research published by Northwestern University in December. More than half of them live in the southeastern United States. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 21 do not have a local news source, while 116 counties only have one.
“When local newspapers disappear, communities fracture and mistrust thrives,” said Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the National Trust for Local News. “The National Trust for Local News protects community newspapers because they build more connected communities, support local economies, and strengthen our democracy. The Georgia Trust for Local News will light a sustainable path forward for community newspapers across the state.”