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Philanthropy Can’t Save Journalism, But It Could Do More to Help


  1. How and why philanthropy can support journalism and how it can support your other programmatic objectives.
  2. Strategies for both newcomers and veterans to make effective journalism and media grants.
  3. Examples of successes and failures from the panel and a discussion of ways to measure each.



Large, growing field of nonprofit news. Data shows that 2010-2015, 1.8 million dollars in grants. Recently, institute of non-profit news (assembly of 180 groups representing total staffing of about 22,000) annual revenues of 350 million, 57% are foundation dollars. Robust area of practice – still the crisis of declining newsroom, declining employment in newsrooms at the local level and the state level.

What is the benefit in philanthropy in providing support for media?

Never been a more vibrant ecosystem. More tools, more opportunities – also the worst of times, at the local level. Local news has a broken business model. No way to replace that. Lots of experimentation – $40-50 billion lost in advertising. Good news is that it’s a lot less expensive to produce news than it was before. There’s really good opportunities to collaborate with philanthropists. Non-profit that supports journalism with health news. Created Kaiser Health News using their own endowment. Over time, fortunate to partner with the California Healthcare Foundation to create California Health Line. Story example: “A Jolt to the Jugular! You’re Insured But Still Owe $109K For Your Heart Attack,” published in partnership with NPR. Media partnerships that facilitate this kind of coverage wouldn’t have existed five years ago.

One of the details focuses on how the particular areas of philanthropic silos – environment, support through the society of environmental journalists. True across disciplines as well. What about taking it from a journalism side – what can philanthropy bring to journalism?

In general, it helps them cover an area that they would like to do but don’t necessarily have the resources to cover. It also helps them connect to a network that they haven’t been a part of before. A lot of newsrooms have become more collaborative after partnering with philanthropic organizations.

Reveal developed reporting on sexual harassment in the workforce – rape in the field, rape on the night shift. This was before #metoo revealed this as a topic. Collaboration with Frontline – audio, print, and powerful film documentary. Foundation supported initiatives. Hurricanes on the coast – reminded of damage to the coast. Coastal watch coverage led to partnerships with the New York Times. Deliver powerful reporting through that project. Examine the impact of support for media as well. Family separation – child who memorized the number of her aunt, Propublica reported that. Forced the administration to change. How do you develop a portfolio? Coverage?

Philanthropy and Journalism – A Good Partnership

Sally Mudd – Be clear on what your goals are, and they shouldn’t be to just get your name in the paper. Talks about some goals and approaches. Representative of how we think about media grant making – three buckets.

  1. Build capacity – there are coverage gaps in the topic you want to cover, perhaps not enough nuance. fund reporters in local outlets, public radio. Pay for training journalists, work with USC, and train journalists to use data to find stories.
  2. Promote organizational goals – issues or policy change. build an awareness of the topic you’re trying to push out into the world – climate change, homelessness. funded an outlet to do specialized reporting – funding a series on preventing opioid deaths. California Health Line – provide audience with valuable information on what’s going on in the healthcare market.
  3. Branding tactic – if you sponsor organizations, shows that you’re a player in the space. develop relationships with outlets and journalists, which is important for your ability to reach out to them and write about the things you want written about. Really important to look at the gaps in reporting and not duplicate what others are duplicating. Combining forces to strengthen reporting in a particular area. Database that talks about who all across the country are funding journalism.

It’s not necessarily easy to make these grants.

My point today is to build the case for funding media in journalism. Build case for board, people, newsrooms. All of whom are very skeptical of this approach. How did a foundation that doesn’t fund media in journalism, fund media in journalism? Simple – just listen. 1. build a brand 2. build capacity of brand 3. elevate the voice. Do all three at the same time, three different lanes. Build brand and capacity of grantee, and the local media isn’t ready to employ that outreach – it all falls flat. Went out and asked the rural in the midwest how they get their news? 80% say Facebook is the #1 news source. So, went on an adventure for why communities would look at Facebook as their news source? News market wasn’t providing the right content. Approach solutions journalism network to build an ecosystem to report on issues that are important on the ground to the community. Newsrooms were very skeptical about bringing competitors into one room. 10 news rooms got together and it was a success, colorado and Montana. 51 newsrooms around the mountain west that are part of the ecosystem collaborative. Most important thing: Create an environment where newsrooms were in a position to be reflective of needs on the ground. Grant making portfolio can now be more in tune with the need on the ground. Not prescriptive – but with listening, more impact with funding. Point here – how to fund media? This is one example. Funding went to all for-profit newsrooms. You can do nonprofit or for-profit.

Solutions Journalism Network – partnership with NY Times, base in Opinion section of the paper. Example is also illustrated in the funding journalism innovation that highlights exemplary work that highlights successful collaborations. David, talk briefly on how to gauge impact on the foundation size?

We have a lot of tools available to measure media strategy. Kaiser Family Foundation – measure impact as what’s important to us. Policy impact through journalism – easily measurable stories where regulator introduces a bill, a business changes policy. There are a lot of people out there that can help you be more effective, growing a field of journalism funders. What organization strategy could and should be.

Foundation represents non-profits. How can they contribute to this new non-profit ecosystem?

Non-funders should be as helpful as possible to media. If you’re an advocacy organization and you think there’s a gap in knowledge, meet with another foundation that fills a gap in knowledge and partner. If you can’t contribute money, contribute expertise and try to be as valuable as possible to the media. You can’t control the message, but you can provide data and give them reports and give it to them in ways that are usable. Helps relationship and helps work.


Q: Are hybrid business models something that you are exploring?

A: Yes, they can work. The evolution is designed to get at that question. Need proof of concept first, have to have a product that works and start to add layers on to it. Currently looking at how to include Report For America. How to benefit from an organization where they’re bringing in talent – perhaps there’s a way to bring talent to a situation – things to consider: place and culture. Figure out balancing act. Once there’s proof of concept, deploy this kind of media in journalism. Talk to funders to see how they want to engage with this work, exploring this topic.

A: Work with 30 NPR member stations to cover health stations, put things on All Things Considered. Worked with 12 other regional newspapers to get health reporting into newsrooms and collaborate in NPR stations. There’s a lot of new models for experimental journalism – Chiller, raising fund through Bitcoin, blockchain approach. Fund local organizations, national topic-based organizations or investigative journalism.

Fluid environment – common to see non-profits collaborating with for-profit.

Q: Notion of competition – curious about, with the imploding business model of journalism, is that a factor or do foundations still worry about that? Is competition still fierce?

A: LaMonte competition still fierce, especially in local models. Of course there’s competition. They’re competing for the same dollar that doesn’t exist – the newsroom doesn’t exist, competition is heightened. News was done in such a headline-grabbing way to get more circulation. Because of the declining revenue model, competition is very fierce.

Q: Any thoughts on finding the right balance between finding the right stories and beats, and doing unrestricted stories with funding?

A: LaMonte Our job in our body of work was to fund nonrestrictive writing. Find problems and find solutions without boundaries. Didn’t fund beats or issues. Fund newsrooms to be good at their jobs.

A: Sally We split the difference. Public media grants – wanted a focus on health. Only 40% of the coverage was a general news agreement to talk about palliative care and opioid crisis. We don’t want to hamstring the reporters who are trying to focus on the things that are the most important in that moment. Some foundation funding is so narrow that it prevents the stories that need to be covered from being covered.

A: David Some donors have particular issues that they care about and they have different reasons they’re bringing to the table.

There are some thorny issues and we shouldn’t sidestep. Guidelines for foundations and guidelines for publishers. Nobody wants to undermine the integrity of the enterprise. Don’t want to be seen to influence coverage in a way that undermines integrity. MacArthur Foundation makes a strong case for journalistic support.

Q: I was wondering if you guys could talk about the shifting role of journalists in today’s digital age? How you want to get advocates – a lot of newsrooms – talk about getting people to understand them as non-profits and services to the community? Changing business model to get closer to the community, and being more authentic to the community?

A: David Engaging with the community will lead to better journalism and more profitable journalism. Very successful at using audience engagement tools, be a part of the reporting and support the enterprise. The same with events strategy – have events in the community to facilitate that dialogue in person. Journalism has changed a lot – two way communication with reader.

Strong advocates for this point of view. Calling for listening to the audience, engaging with the audience.

A: LaMonte Couple mentions of audiences. What if grantees were better at storytelling? If you consider that as a viable option to create more authentic, advocacy type news, funders should consider having communications is embedded in it. Want grantees to be better at communicating. It’s not just about the newsrooms, it’s about the entire ecosystem.

Q: Don’t want to be seen as influencing the news coverage, which general support grants can help. Have you had to deal with accusations of bias? What other ways can you deal with this?

A: David Strong editorial firewalls are the best defense against that. Kaiser foundation partnered with other foundations. The best way to counteract that is to have a good paper trail that explains how the funding relationship works.

Just because somebody accuses you of being influenced doesn’t mean you have to cave to that. There have been cases where the recipient folds too quickly and immediately gives the money back.

A: Sally – more issues with audience that isn’t happy with the reporting that’s coming out. Staff members aren’t happy with how a story is being represented. You have to be able to push back. If it’s factually incorrect that’s one thing, but other than that sometimes journalism isn’t about making people happen.

Q: Share an observation and ask for comment. Big believer in the power of journalism, seen the decline of newspapers. Following what’s happening in the industry, crisis of trust. Disconnection and distance from local journalism outlets to the communities – caused by corporate ownership. There’s a solution to both of those – suggest that one of the biggest roles of philanthropy, instead of funding actual journalism, teach newspapers about how to reconnect with communities and rebuild trust.

A: LaMonte I would agree. From the work that we did, we did accomplish that. We rebuilt trust in the local newsroom. From the 100 stories, these were the most read in the newsroom. Surveyed the communities that consumed this content, and readers said they were more trustworthy. Would like to see more of this reporting from people in the newsroom. There’s hope, and people can do this.

Q: What do you have to say about sustainability? There’s a wave of support in the wake of fake news, but worried now about a shakeup.

A: David There isn’t a silver bullet. Legacy newspapers aren’t sustainable just on name, need to focus on communities. Advertising loss means smaller newsrooms. Need to think about all the different avenues that business models can work in this. Trying to figure out the way to get more sustainable sources of revenue – a lot of communities are never going to have the same resources, esp. rural communities.

Takes us to the takeaways: right now there’s a crisis in local journalism and an opportunity to experiment to find a solution. Don’t take the risk alone. Learn from other people in the industry – as you go out there, call someone! Tend to do our work in silos and often times not reach out to each other. Important to look for partners and not do it alone. We’re all in this to make journalism stronger, which should be the end goal. Real example – on October 19th, hosting a phone call to talk about collaboration – finding the “on-ramp”. If interested, send an email to get in on the phone conversation.

Effort called News Match, a matching gifts program spread out all over the country. Underscore a big issue that we’re confronting – issues of diversity, equity, inclusion in a declining industry. It’s a challenge that philanthropy can lean into.

These notes were captured by The Communications Network and have been reviewed by the presenters. ComNet18 Breakout Session notes were made possible thanks to the generous support of the Kalliopeia Foundation.


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