Guardian closes Cities section as non-profit funding ends after six years

The Guardian has closed its Cities section after grant money funding the newsdesk’s coverage over six years came to an end last month.

The section, which focused on issues and solutions around urban environments and the effects of climate change, won the Features Journalism prize at Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards 2019.

Guardian Cities had been funded by US non-profit the Rockefeller Foundation since its launch in January 2014, most recently awarding it $3m over three years from January 2016 to December 2019.

But Press Gazette understands the title had known for some time that the funding was not going to be renewed and its journalists had therefore been prepared for the change.

Guardian Cities editor Chris Michael announced the closure yesterday, telling readers it was “time for a change”.

“After many years of renewed generosity from the Rockefeller Foundation, whose arm’s-length support meant that we retained full editorial independence in every way, Cities is closing its doors,” he said.

The Cities section was given freedom to stray away from the news agenda with long-form pieces. Its themes are now set to be continued primarily in the Guardian’s environment section and other areas of coverage.

Guardian Cities commissioned work from the title’s own staff as well as freelances, but had a core team of four: an editor, deputy editor, production editor, and commissioning and communities editor.

There are no redundancies as a result of the section closure, with all dedicated staff moving into other roles at the Guardian.

Michael said 2019 had been a “particularly vibrant” year for the team, which has “tried to shape how the world understands urbanisation: namely, as one of the truly transformative global phenomena of the 21st century”.

Guardian Cities’ Empty Doorway project looking at the deaths of homeless people was recognised at the British Journalism Awards 2019, with judges describing Simon Hattenstone and Daniel Lavelle’s stories as “gripping accounts” that exposed “an issue of huge public interest”.

The desk also experimented with different formats, including a documentary series exploring the divisions in five different cities and an “illustrated cities” series of cartoons.

The Guardian regularly emphasised the idea of its editorial independence from the Rockefeller Foundation and has said copy was never shown to the organisation for approval, although its logo appeared next to each story.

In its grant records, the Rockefeller Foundation said the funding was awarded in “continued support of its Guardian Cities section to foster reader engagement and understanding of resilience as it affects poor and vulnerable communities in urban areas”.

The non-profit’s related 100 Resilient Cities project, which launched in 2013 to provide cities around the world with the resources to cope with physical, social and economic challenges, also closed last summer.

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