Vance Center Expands Press Freedom Work with New Funding, New Clients

December 2023

Two Vance Center initiatives to defend media organizations in the U.S. and around the world received new grants from key supporters.

Reporters Shield  

The Vance Center expanded the capacity of its Reporters Shield program thanks to a generous grant from the Oak Foundation 

The first-time grant from the Oak Foundation has helped the Vance Center organize and manage the legal components of Reporters Shield – critical steps toward building a network of lawyers and law firms to facilitate pro bono representation of investigative journalism around the world. This funding also crucially supports the Vance Center’s continued institutional growth, including through enhanced communications and fundraising capacities. Reporters Shield and the Vance Center’s work to defend press freedom aligns with the Oak Foundation’s active support for organizations working to ensure a healthy information sphere under its international human rights program 

The Oak Foundation, headquartered in Switzerland, is a global grant-making organization that commits its resources to addressing issues of global, social, and environmental concern. The Foundation currently supports organizations in over three dozen countries, working on various levels to address societal injustices across a range of programmatic areas. 

Reporters Shield launched in May 2023 at the initiative of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Vance Center with seed funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This funding supports the Vance Center in coordinating legal services for members, as well as its representation of Reporters Shield.  

Lawyers for Reporters 

The Vance Center’s Lawyers for Reporters (LFR) program received renewed, multi-year funding from the Democracy Fund, an initial supporter of the program. The Fund provides LFR with critical assistance as it continues building its operations, staffing, and client base to respond to increasing demand for the program’s services. This funding comes from the Fund’s “Public Square” program, which helps guarantee that communities across the United States have access to accurate and reliable information to increase their likelihood of participating in and protecting democracy.    

The Lawyers for Reporters team is also energized by new, multi-year grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to maintain and grow its team of attorneys specializing in media, employment, nonprofit tax, and other areas of law. This growth will allow the program to reach additional local journalism clients and law firm co-counsels and provide more specialized legal support to meet a wide range of client needs.  

The MacArthur Foundation selected Lawyers for Reporters as part of the first set of grants under its new “local news” grantmaking strategy, which directly supports local newsrooms as well as organizations providing them with technical services and infrastructure support. This corresponds with its broader work with other funders, including the Democracy Fund and Knight Foundation, to pool funding through Press Forward. This new initiative provides additional and concentrated support to local news, recognizing the role these organizations play in strengthening communities and democracy. More information about the Lawyers for Reporters grant, Press Forward, and fellow grantees is available in the Foundation’s press release. 

Since its formation in June 2020, Lawyers for Reporters has worked with nearly 200 clients, more than 85 of them in 2023 alone. LFR clients are in 35 states and the District of Columbia, and two thirds of them are local news outlets. The program team seeks to represent clients throughout their lifecycles, and clients regularly return to LFR to address new matters as they arise. 

This fall LFR worked on a range of projects for its clients, including incorporating a new nonprofit that will produce news coverage focused on the interests of disabled and chronically ill persons, assisting a local journalism outlet to highlight the history of a once-marginalized group in its community, representing a client in a merger with another nonprofit organization, and helping a news publisher investigating extremism create a protocol to protect the confidentiality of its newsgathering materials from hostile actors.  

The new grants from the Democracy Fund, MacArthur Foundation, and Knight Foundation provide impactful support and open new avenues of opportunity for LFR to sustain and expand pro bono legal representation of its ever-growing network of local, independent, and mission-driven news organizations.   


About the funders  

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of its headquarters city, Chicago. 

The Knight Foundation is a long-time champion and supporter of journalism initiatives through its promotion of informed and engaged communities. LFR is thrilled to be included among its impactful list of grantees, working towards transformative and sustainable change.  

The Knight Foundation are social investors who support democracy by funding free expression and journalism, arts and culture in community, research in areas of media and democracy, and in the success of American cities and towns where the Knight brothers once had newspapers. Learn more at and follow @knightfdn on social media.