RFP: Press Forward Chicago

Press Forward Chicago is a grantmaking initiative administered by The Chicago Community Trust—designed in partnership with the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and local journalism donors and practitioners.

RFP Release: February 23, 2024 
Information Session: Click here to view the recording.
Full Application Deadline: March 25 at 11:59 p.m. CT
Funding Decision:  April 16 – April 25, 2024 
Announcement: May 13 – May 17, 2024


Press Forward Chicago is a grantmaking initiative administered by The Chicago Community Trust and designed in partnership with the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and local journalism donors and practitioners. By making philanthropic investments in diverse local news outlets in the region, Press Forward Chicago aims to catalyze innovative solutions to the challenges facing local news, amplify impactful journalism practices, and grow financial investments into the media ecosystem to ensure residents have access to relevant, credible, and trusted information.  

Across the nation, closures and cutbacks have marred the local journalism landscape, leaving many communities without vital sources of information. With more than 100 independent media outlets contributing to the city’s rich diversity of voices, our region presents a different reality than many metropolitan areas. Secure and sustainable funding remains a pressing challenge for many of these outlets. Embracing this imperative, newsroom leaders are actively working to diversify their income sources. However, despite their efforts, many of these outlets lack capacity-building tools, threatening residents’ access to high-quality and culturally responsive news sources.   

Recognizing the critical role journalism plays in the civic health of our city, Press Forward Chicago was created to support efforts that enrich the quality, reach, and diversity of news reporting in the Chicago region. This Request for Proposal will focus on capacity-building support and aims to advance opportunities for journalists and newsroom leaders to learn from each other, share best practices, and develop strategies for sustainable journalism. This funding opportunity will bring together some of the region’s most innovative local news organizations to identify and co-create learning activities that include individual and organizational growth components, meeting several times over the grant period as a peer learning activity.   

Through its investments, Press Forward Chicago seeks to:   

  • Foster a more equitable news ecosystem that represents and serves the diverse tapestry of our city’s population;   
  • Scale proven strategies and innovations that address the challenges of today’s media environment; and   
  • Revitalize the local news infrastructure, ensuring robust reporting on critical issues facing Chicago’s communities. 

Need/Opportunity Statement 

Chicago has a robust news ecosystem that includes hyperlocal and regional news outlets that meet the information needs of Chicago’s communities. However, many of these outlets have expressed the need for support in navigating the complexities of the media landscape, including adapting to digital transformations, diversifying revenue streams, and building sustainable business models.   

While they are uniquely positioned to understand and address the nuanced concerns of specific neighborhoods, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic backgrounds, many lack the financial capacity to sustain and grow their operations. Newsroom leaders are working hard to diversify their income sources and other resources needed to acquire and implement the latest strategies and tools for sustainability. Other challenges have resulted from the need to access better tools to manage the business side of the news, such as audience analytics, revenue generation strategies, and digital distribution platforms. As a result, many communities experience gaps in coverage, and newsrooms experience chronic operational shortfalls.   

A healthy local news ecosystem helps to bridge information gaps and strengthen the social fabric by connecting residents and empowering them to participate in shaping the future of their communities. Local news serves as the lifeblood of a vibrant civic infrastructure by informing residents about crucial issues. Communities with active civic engagement tend to have greater social cohesion, increased access to resources, and a higher quality of life for residents across socioeconomic backgrounds. By providing residents with the information and tools they need to engage meaningfully in civic life, local news outlets can contribute to a more equitable society where opportunities are accessible to all.   

The Chicago region’s news and information ecosystem stands at a pivotal moment where it must take decisive action to secure its future. Press Forward Chicago aims to support newsrooms by providing capacity-building resources and necessary support to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.   

The goals of this funding opportunity are to:  

  • Expand opportunities for hyperlocal or regional media organizations that reflect, serve, and amplify the voices of community members from across Chicago, with an emphasis on news and information platforms that foster a sense of collective purpose and embrace the value of co-creating with residents and media colleagues. 
  • Support hyperlocal or regional media organizations seeking to increase their current reach through audience expansion and the adoption of new business strategies and approaches. 
  • Build the capacity of media and information outlets that demonstrate proven success in strengthening collaborative relationships with community members and their capacity to seek collaborative partnerships with media colleagues that create conditions to amplify community-driven stories and concerns.   

Priority Strategies & Activities 

The purpose of this grant initiative is to recognize organizations’ ongoing efforts to utilize civic journalism and storytelling platforms that amplify the voices of community residents and storytellers, expose critical issues identified by the community, and ignite and inform resident-driven actions via these funding priorities and associated outcomes:  

  • Sustainability: Organizations developing new, scalable business models for financial sustainability in local news. Outcomes: Expand Partnership Opportunities, Improve Overall Financial Health, Increase Fundamental Business Finance Knowledge and Application 
  • Equity and Inclusion: Organizations and initiatives focused on closing the gap in representation and coverage of marginalized communities. Outcomes: Build Knowledge and Narrative, Increase in Organizational Effectiveness     
  • Audience and Community Engagement: Efforts to deepen connections between newsrooms and the communities they serve, enhancing civic participation. Outcomes: Build Knowledge and Narrative, Escalate Awareness/Salience of Issues, Increase Coalition, Constituent and Organizational Power 
  • Technological Advancement: Proposals that leverage technology to distribute local news more effectively and engage audiences more deeply. Outcomes: Build Knowledge and Narrative, Increase Fundamental Business Finance Knowledge and Application  

Grant Type

Capacity Building Project Support Only.

Organizations that submit a complete application will be evaluated based on their capacity to provide services rooted in equity and best practices that meet the priority strategies outlined above.  

Grant Amounts Available & Grant Term 

Two-year grants ranging between $100,000 and $125,000.

For More Information

Please visit GrantCentral, The Chicago Community Trust’s online grants management system, to view the criteria and access the application for this RFP.

If you have additional questions, contact Lauren Woods, Program Manager, at lwoods@cct.org.

How to Apply

The Trust awards grants to organizations whose work is consistent with our mission and our current priorities. Learn about the application process and eligibility.

How to Apply

What We Fund

Our grants are not just checks, not just points on a map. Our grants are lifelines, connecting individual donors with people and families striving for a better life.

What We Fund