In 2022, DemocracyFund asked, "What would it cost to ensure that everyone in the United States had access to the news and information they need?" They enlisted the help of SeaChange, a non-profit specializing in financial analysis, to build a model estimating the cost of providing local news to every community in the country.

The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University is accepting funding proposals until March 31, 2023 from researchers interested in modifying/improving on the model and/or applying it to specific geographic contexts. Research stipends of up to $5,000 are available. View more information here.

What does the model do?

TThe Journalism Ecosystem model estimates the cost of fully funding local news ecosystems at the school district, township, city, county, congressional distsrict, and state levels. To estimate that number, it combines US Census data with real-world journalism expense figures drawn from an anonymized dataset provided by the Institue for Nonprofit News.

What's on this website?

This website showcases two interactive calculators that recreate the logic of the model, allowing users to easily interact with its ideas. The calculators on this website also explain how the model arives at its cost estimates, hopefully easing users' paths to directly engaging with and changing the model themselves.

This website is maintained by the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, part of Duke University's Sanford School for Public Policy.

Calculator 1: Estimate costs for the national news ecosystem

One of our calculators re-implements a part of the model that estimates the cost of funding local news around the country.

Following the lead of the model, the calculator lets users specify the number of editorial employees to be funded across localities. For example, the user could specify that all municipalities in the country be covered by an education reporter, a community services reporter, and a criminal justice reporter.

Upon seeing that input, the calculator would count the number of municipalities in the country and multiply that figure by 3 (reporters/county) to calculate the total number of editorial employees required to cover cities at that level.

To determine the cost of funding those employees, the calculator would multiply that total number of editorial employees by average expense data based off numbers from the Institue for Nonprofit News.

The national ecosystem calculator hosted on this website differs slightly from the model developed by SeaChange in that it allows the user to select the number of editorial employees assigned to each type of locality. We made this change to demonstrate how the model can easily be changed to introduce more granularity.

Calculator 2: Estimate costs for a single state’s news ecosystem

Our second calculator functions much like the national news ecosystem calculator but estimates numbers at the state level. The state calculator may provide a useful prototype for researchers hoping to transform the model to explore the costs of funding local news ecosystems at smaller scales (e.g., at the city or county level).

Journalism ecosystem cost calculator instructions

The calculator below uses data from the U.S. Census and the Institue for Nonprofit News to approximate a cost for funding local news ecosystems across the nation.

Try modifying the inputs below to see how different allocations of journalists across localities changes the total cost of the ecosytem.

To see how numbers are being calculated, click the "Show calculation" button underneath the inputs.

Click here to view the national news ecosystem expense calculator

Journalism ecosystem cost calculator—state version

For each locality

How many reporters should cover...
Demographic coverage areas
How many reporters should cover...
Government Coverage Areas
Community Services
Criminal Justice
Population 4,903,185
Size tag Small
Congressional districts 7
School Systems 137
Special Districts 530
Township Governments -
Municipal Governments 461
County Governments 67
State Governments 1
Annual Foundation Giving (2015) $229,406,215
Estimated funds required:
Editorial employees required:
Non-editorial employees required:
Total staff required:
Estimating cost using 2021 dollars
Estimating needs using 2020 population

Download the model

Click here to download a version of the model with anonymized data.