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Local nonprofits win MacArthur awards

Two local nonprofits are among organizations in fifteen countries announced Wednesday as recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

The Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University and the Southwest Organizing Project will each receive a $750,000 award from the MacArthur Foundation.

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A ‘pay to play’ transition

The Nonprofiteer looks at foundation funding for Rahm Emanuel’s transition – costs traditionally covered by a candidate’s campaign fund.

She calls it “inappropriate pick-pocketing,” and “doesn’t blame the foundations for ponying up, though she wishes they hadn’t….But the Emanuel administration-in-waiting should never have asked for that sort of tribute.”

There’s nothing new about “pay to play” around here, of course, but this is a notable innovation in charging for access, and it’s a less than auspicious start for a guy who likes to talk about “reform” so much.

CMW, Reporter in grassroots journalism initiative

Community Media Workshop and the Chicago Reporter will be reaching out to neighborhood bloggers and community groups on the South and West Sides to take up local reporting projects this year, backed by grants from a new Chicago Community Trust initiative.

The Local Reporting Initiative will provide awards of $2,000 and $10,000 for reporting by and for underserved communities in Chicago as part of the Trust’s Community News Matters program.

“We’re looking for the unheralded blogger in Bronzeville or Austin, or for nonprofits and community groups who’d like to engage a local journalist to help them tell their story,” said Thom Clark, president of Community Media Workshop.

“These are the communities that have been hit hardest in this economic crisis,” he said, underscoring the Workshop’s premise that “without voices from the neighborhoods, there can be no effective urban policy in a city like Chicago.”

Nonprofits, for-profit companies and individuals interested in applying are invited to an information session on January 19, 10 a.m. to noon, at Columbia College, 618 S. Michigan, 2nd floor.  Proposals are due February 21.  (Applications and information are available here.)

The Trust hopes “policy groups, community organizations, media outlets of all kinds, and individuals who care about these communities will be inspired by the Initiative to step up” with proposals for reporting projects, said vice president Ngoan Le.

The goal is to “stimulate a wave of new reporting” on issues affecting low-income communities, the Trust said in an announcement.

Community Media Workshop and the Chicago Reporter will share project administration, with the Reporter providing editorial support and the Workshop working to maximize dissemination of reporting, through Newstips and other online platforms and through social media

The initiative reflects the longtime mission of the Workshop to help journalists find community voices and “move beyond official sources,” and to “let the public and policy makers know that there is life in these neighborhoods way beyond the latest shotgun headline,” Clark said.

The geographical focus is a response to recent Community News Matters research which found that “residents of low-income South Side and West Side neighborhoods are especially concerned about the lack of news organizations covering relevant issues in their communities,” said Clark Bell, journalism program director of the McCormick Foundation, which is supporting the initiative.

Other support comes from the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Driehaus Foundation, and the Woods Fund.

Launched two years ago, the Community News Matters program aims at increasing local news coverage and assisting the development of innovative vehicles for news and information.

“High-quality reporting and analysis is the lifeblood of civic life,” said Le.  But local coverage by mainstream outlets has declined following cuts and consolidation, according to the 2009 New News Report produced by the Workshop for Community News Matters.

The new initiative also responds to findings in the Workshop’s 2010 New News Report that many new media outlets have yet to develop sustainable business models.  A feasability study to be completed February 28 will explore the possibility of establishing an advertising network to support local media innovators.

“Finding ways to pay for the news and information citizens need is one of the critical challenges of our age,” Le said.  “Chicago is blessed with a wealth of new media innovators trying to develop new models for the future.  We are happy to enable them to explore whether, by banding together, they might be able to generate additional financial support for their vital work.”

In addition to the Local Reporting Initiative and the feasibility study, the Trust is extending support for Windy Citizen and Gapers Block, as well as for Columbia College for advertising sales development for Austin Talks.

Nonprofits back Comcast-NBC merger — vaguely

Some 29 local nonprofits testified in favor of Comcast at the FCC’s hearing on the proposed $28 billion Comcast-NBC merger, held in Chicago in July – but few actually mentioned the merger, and none spoke directly to the issues involved in the controversial merger, according to an analysis (pdf) by Chicago Media Action.

Nonprofits backing Comcast included Association House, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Back of the Yards Neighborhood Club, Gad’s Hill Center, Chicago Boys and Girls Club, United Neighborhood Organization, Literacy Works, the Center on Halsted, and the YMCA of Metro Chicago.

Only eight nonprofit representatives actually mentioned the merger, and none provided any specific reason for backing it, according to CMA.  Typical is a statement from an UNO representative:  “It is UNO’s belief that the Comcast/Universal joint venture is in the public’s best interest.”

Most pro-Comcast speakers merely praised the corporation for providing financial assistance to their organizations, according to CMA.

“What’s particularly stunning about the comments in support of the proposed merger is how fundamentally monolithic they are,” said Mitchell Szczepanczyk of CMA. “No reason aside from ‘Comcast is great’ was publicly mentioned.”

The 69 witnesses at the hearing were evenly split, half  supporting  the merger and half opposing it.

It was left to opponents of the merger – who included media reform activists, civil rights groups, and other nonprofits – to address a range of concerns, including the threat posed by media concentration to diversity of voices including minority representation; the future of Telemundo and funding for public access cable television; concerns about network neutrality; and Comcast’s record on labor and consumer issues.

As Newstips reported in July, a Comcast-NBC merger would hit particularly hard in Chicago, one of Comcast’s top three markets (and one of eleven cities where it’s the dominant cable and interpet provider) and one of three cities where NBC owns two television stations.

Critics say the merger would cost jobs, hike cable rates, undermine labor standards for telecommunications workers, and create anti-competitive pressures that could force other stations to cut back news operations.

Inspiration Corp. plans new cafe

At a time when many agencies for the homeless are struggling, Inspiration Corporation is planning a major expansion.

The agency is on track to open a second social-enterprise restaurant and job training center in Garfield Park next year, funded by a capital drive which is nearing its goal, said Diane Pascal.

Garfield Park Cafe, at 3504-18 W. Lake, will be modeled after Cafe Too, 4715 N. Sheridan, a neighborhood restaurant which provides job training and transitional employment in food service for low-income and homeless residents.

In addition to providing nutritious, affordable family restaurant meals to the general public, the new cafe will offer “guest certificates” for free meals, distributed through local agencies, schools, and churches to supplement family budgets or to encourage participation and achievement.  The group also plans to expand into catering at the new location.

Along with Cafe Too, Inspiration Corporation runs the Inspiration Cafe in Uptown and the Living Room Cafe in Woodlawn, where low-income residents can get free meals in a restaurant-style setting as well as access to a range of supportive services.  Services run from subsidized housing to open case management to free voice mail.

This week Inspiration Corporation announced a $300 thousand challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation, which will require raising an additional $500 thousand.  That would complete the organization’s $6 million capital campaign, launched in February of 2009.

While funds are going mainly to the Garfield Park Cafe – including full and clear ownership of the building that will house the restaurant, the group’s first real asset – the campaign includes a $650,000 sustainability fund to provide financial stability and reduce debt service expenses, Pascal said.

Despite the economic downturn, the group decided to focus its fundraising on the capital effort last year, she said.  She attributed the group’s success in part to the leadership and energy of its charismatic (and unpaid) founder, Lisa Nigro.  A former police officer, Nigro began offering sandwiches and coffee to Uptown’s homeless from her nephew’s red wagon 1989.  After moving to a van and then a bus, a local landlord offered here a one-dollar lease on a Wilson Avenue storefront, where Inspiration Cafe was opened.

Nonprofit Nation: Haiti, journalism

This week’s Nation has two reports on nonprofit issues:  In Haiti, aid is still slow in getting to refugee camps, as large relief organizations have ignored community-based organizations.  But “a group of Haitian community leaders [is] determined to force the international aid agencies to listen to their demands.”  Meanwhile long-term planning by the UN and US and Haitian elites, backed by Bill Clinton, focuses on a neoliberal agenda of bolstering export industries and bypasses reviving the nation’s once-thriving agricultural sector.

And as newsrooms shrink, think tanks like the Center for a New American Security have moved to fill the void.  With funding from the MacArthur Foundation and other philanthropies – and also from an array military contractors, from Lockheed Martin to KBR – the center gives commentators a cover of “bipartisanship” while pushing for a military buildup in Afghanistan and opposing withdrawal from Iraq.

Also at the Nation, John Nichols has a sober appraisal of the shortcomings of the healthcare reform bill, as well as possible strategies for reforming the reform.

Nonprofits against net neutrality

In comments to the FCC, Erie Neighborhood House, the Schaumburg Business Association, and the Kankakee County Farm Bureau have all opposed protections for network neutrality – and all have connections to AT&T, Arstechnica reports.

There are civil rights groups on both sides of the issue – but those opposing net neutrality “seem far more likely to have taken money from the major players.”

And there’s more on the “shadowy” Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide – which once denounced AT&T’s cable service as “digital redlining” (under state franchise the company can pick and choose its service areas), and now travels the region testifying before city councils supporting it.

The pattern “is reminiscent of AT&T’s efforts to rally Illinois groups against petitions pending at the FCC that seek protections for public access channels,” according to the Keep Us Connected coalition.

Unity Challenge

The Chicago Community Trust has announced Unity Challenge 2010, with CCT  providing a one-on-one match for new donor contributions toward a fund to help nonprofit organizations struggling to meet growing demands for human services, including food and shelter.

Last year, the inaugural Unity Fund provided $4 million to support agencies meeting basic human needs, exceeding its goal by $1 million.

Last year CCT also launched its monthly Metro Chicago Vital Signs report, tracking statistics on unemployment, foreclosures, homelessness and hunger.

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