Philanthropic groups have increased their funding of news outlets, but it is not always clear what they are getting for it, judging by Journalism and Philanthropy: Growth, Diversity, and Potential Conflicts of Interest, a study by Media Impact Funders, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and NORC at the University of Chicago.
Of the funders surveyed, 52% have increased their investments in media in the last five years. And many promote diversity. However, there are questions about disclosure and the tying of grants to specific coverage.
The study argues that media groups should have written policies to “increase public disclosure of donors and address potential conflicts of interest that put editorial independence and public trust at risk.”
Overall, philanthropic funders specify these types of investments in media:
-- Funding of journalism that addresses a specific topic or specific problems: 74%
-- Grants specifically to increase local journalism production: 71%
-- Grants that help journalists increase community engagement: 58%
-- Grants for a particular type of journalism without specifying topics or projects: 55%
-- Grants to help grantees fundraise and develop sustainability: 53%
-- Grants to field-building organizations: 43%
-- Grants specifically for local NPR-member stations or local PBS stations: 43%
-- Grants to adopt new technologies: 34%
Of the funders polled, 64% prefer to invest in nonprofit news organizations, only 2% choose to back for-profit publications, 12% prefer a mix and 19% say tax status doesn’t matter.
Nonprofit media organizations are the most transparent — 32% reveal all their donors, 20% most, 34% some and 11% none.
In contrast, 14% of for-profit publishers disclose all of their donors, 12% most, 20% some and 37% none.
Moreover, 29% of NPR and PBS outlets do not list any donors.
Meanwhile, 36% of funders say they have funded a particular investigation or specific stories.
Among non-profit media organizations, 42% have received offers to fund specific news content. And 28% of for-profit publishers have received such offers.
That said, 92% of the nonprofits and 83% of for-profit news outlets never showed funders journalistic content they helped underwrite prior to publication. And around 70% of all news organizations never make editorial changes based on funder input.
Among funders, 81% feel it is extremely important or very much so to promote “civic engagement with trusted news and information.”
In addition, 68% say it is important or very much so to ensure racial equity and inclusion in the production of news.
Of media that mostly serve communities of color, half have seen increases in philanthropic funding.
The study was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago in partnership with Media Impact Funders and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, with funding provided by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
The researchers surveyed 156 funding organizations, 193 non-profit news entities and 164 for-profit news publishers from April 13 to July 21, 2023.