Neal Peirce and Aid for Local Journalism

Though he passed away over two years ago, Neal Peirce continues to influence public dialogue and media through the newly formed Neal Peirce Foundation. At a recent Foundation meeting his daughter Andrea described the foundation as a way to carry forward his love of cities.

Neal, who was a long-time member of the National Civic League board of directors, was a Washington Post columnist, founder of the National Journal and political director of Congressional Quarterly. He also wrote nine books and co-authored another nine, with much of the last 30 years of his life spent writing comprehensive reports on cities with fellow League board member Curtis Johnson.

Neal raised the profile of local and regional governance, writing about the work of cities and metropolitan regions to solve local problems. His obituary in the Washington Post quoted Neal as saying “Today the best talent is found in the metropolitan centers, and their creative new partnerships and idea organizations. The collective intellectual willpower of regions is immense. And we’ve just begun to tap it.”

With the guidance of his two daughters and assistance from many friends and colleagues, the Neal Peirce Foundation is focused on strengthening local journalism and coverage of city issues by providing journalists travel grants to tell stories about how cities can work better for all their people.

Here are some words of wisdom from the foundation’s website on the importance of supporting local journalism:

Local media is in crisis. The U.S. lost 2,100 newspapers from 2004 to 2019, and newsroom layoffs and closures only grew worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Local news organizations were once strong, independent voices in their communities, uniquely positioned to challenge civic leaders to do better and stimulate learning from other communities. 

Not that long ago, local newspapers regularly sent journalists to other cities to report on how they were solving problems. Today, those types of stories are gone — along with the newsroom travel budgets that made them possible. Neal Peirce Foundation travel grants enable legacy newsrooms to get back to doing this important work. 

At the same time, there’s new opportunity in the small and growing ecosystem of local news startups, many of them nonprofits. According to the Institute for Nonprofit News, 33 local outlets launched between 2018 and 2020. They’re operating in 28 states and Washington, D.C. 

By and large, these are bootstrap organizations with no resources to send reporters on the road. Our travel grants enable these young startups to raise their journalistic ambitions and jumpstart important conversations about how their communities can learn from others.

The Foundation’s first travel grants went to journalists from two local newspapers. Peter Rice of the Downtown Albuquerque News went to Atlanta to report on impacts of the city’s BeltLine on nearby residents and David Slade of the Charleston Post and Courier went to Philadelphia to research a local housing inheritance policy.

Journalists may apply for the Foundation’s travel grants any time and grants of up to $1,500 each are available. It’s truly a fitting tribute to Neal’s travel throughout the U.S. to highlight the importance of cities and their supporters.

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