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How To Create a Media Partnership

Guest Post: Cassandra Stalzer

For the past year, the Rasmuson Foundation has been partnering with the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) on a special project, “State of Intoxication,” a print and video series about the profound effects over-consumption has on the lives of Alaskans.

This was the first high-profile partnership between for-profit news media and philanthropy in Alaska, and as such, it raised a lot of questions and generated a lot of ideas. 

Cassandra Stalzer

“State of Intoxication” received funding from the Recover Alaska Media Fund at the Alaska Community Foundation. Rasmuson Foundation was one of the contributors to that fund.

Rasmuson Foundation does not, and probably never will have, a grant program specific to the production of media or journalism. We provide funding for books, documentary film, and web-based information projects through our established grant programs. And if you peruse our website, you will see many names familiar from bylines across the state. We have engaged journalists as story tellers to explore the connection we all have to the nonprofit sector, and we have had several reporters receive Individual Artist Awards to develop their creative work.

The “State of Intoxication” series grew out of discussion with ADN in December 2012 about the Foundation’s programmatic interests. We had recently joined a collaborative of funders that were in the beginning stages of creating strategies to decrease the harm Alaskans experience from the over-consumption of alcohol. Editor Pat Dougherty asked if the Foundation would consider a partnership to support two full-time journalists to focus on alcohol over the course of the year. We said yes.

The project kicked off in July 2013 – a time when Anchorage was reeling from a tragic series of DUI-related deaths. Five lives had been lost within two months, including a pair of 15-year-olds walking home from the mall. The series won the Alaska Press Club’s Public Service Award; judge Tom Condon, columnist and deputy editorial page editor, wrote “‘State of Intoxication’ is an in-depth and creative look at a serious public health problem – a classic example of exemplary public service.” Pictures of the Year International, a competition among press photographers, recognized State of Intoxication with third place award in the Series or Special Section category.

Citari Townes-Sweatt, DUI victim. Photo by Anne Raup.

A photo of Citari Townes-Sweatt, DUI victim, at a car wash to raise funds for funeral expenses. Photo by Marc Lester.

Prior to entering this field, Foundation staff did some research and fact finding about how other private philanthropies were partnering with journalists. We found a range of options: the independent nonprofit model like ProPublica that receives foundation grants; the foundation-program-yet-independent model like Kaiser Health News that functions like a news wire service; and the sponsored fellow/reporter model like WHYY’s behavioral health reporter.

But what seemed to work best for this particular project was a model more akin to Ford Foundation’s support of The Los Angeles Times or NBC News where funding provides support for a particular subject area, and includes complete editorial separation between the funder and the news organization.

And so far, the impact of the project has been significant. Alcohol policy was a top topic in Juneau this year among our state legislators. A major transporation company is reviewing their policy for inspecting cargo – often the vector for booze in dry communities. Women like me, college-educated with many social and economic advantages, are suddenly aware that we are the most likely ones to bear a child with fetal alcohol syndrome because the damage can be done before we even know we are pregnant.

The Foundation is open to good ideas of all kinds – and that includes good ideas for ways to support public-interest news reporting. For the Foundation to consider future journalism projects, there must be alignment with the Foundation’s programmatic interests. Rasmuson Foundation, as a place-based funder, has broad programmatic interests with a focus on social services, growing philanthropy, art and culture, the availability of adequate housing, and diminishing harm from the overconsumption of alcohol.

A full archive of “State of Intoxication” series can be found here. Click here for the “Alcohol and Me” video narratives. 

Cassandra Stalzer is the communications director for the Rasmuson Foundation

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