I’m currently the Senior Director of the Public Square Program at Democracy Fund where we invest in people and organizations that make democracy work better.

For more than two decades my work in journalism, communications, education and advocacy has focused on transforming institutions to be more responsive to and reflective of their community. Through donor organizing, large scale civic projects, coalition building, and powerful storytelling, I have helped foundations, newsrooms, and nonprofits engage deeply with the people they serve.

As Senior Program Director I lead a team of ten staff and manage $18M in grant making annually. The Public Square Program supports diverse local news ecosystems and media justice efforts that build power to advance an inclusive multiracial democracy. We support leaders of color across journalism and technology who are reinventing the public square as a thriving space for all people. Through philanthropic partnerships and donor organizing I’ve helped raise more than $200M for organizations working to strengthen democracy and journalism over the last five years.

Previously I directed the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s journalism sustainability project, focused on developing new revenue models for local news rooted in community engagement and creative collaboration. This work was built on the 7 years I spent running national advocacy campaigns in support of freedom of expression and media diversity as Press Freedom Director at Free Press. Prior to that, I directed policy and communications for Campus Compact, a national coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities committed to the civic purposes of higher education.

I speak frequently about journalism, philanthropy, civic engagement, and collaborative problem solving at conferences like SXSW, the Online News Association, the Personal Democracy Forum as well as colleges and universities across the United States. My research and reporting have appeared online at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Columbia Journalism Review, The Guardian, Orion Magazine, PBS MediaShift, BuzzFeed, and BoingBoing.

In addition, I have helped establish a number of innovative programs and organizations focused on meeting critical needs. In 2013 I created a directory of tools for verification of eyewitness media which led me to help establish First Draft News, a pathbreaking organization working on tracking and combating misinformation. I helped relaunch and grow NewsMatch, the nation’s largest philanthropic campaign and capacity building program for local journalism. I was a founding board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation and have held board positions with Student Conservation Association, Amherst Media, the Valley Land Fund, Orion Magazine, and Educators for Community Engagement.  

I have served as a visiting scholar and lecturer at the Journalism, Communication, English and Public Policy Departments at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and the Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York. 

You can find me around the web:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/jcstearns
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jcstearns
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jcstearns_studio
Mastodon: https://journa.host/@jcstearns


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