Report Investigates Ethics of Funding Nonprofit Media

While nearly all nonprofit media outlets are transparent about their funding, relatively few have written guidelines governing their editorial independence, a report from the finds.

Funded by the and the , the report, , includes the results of a survey of funders, nonprofit media outlets, and their commercial partners on a range of topics, including the financing of nonprofit news, editorial firewalls, disclosure practices, the level of communication between funders and grantees, and specifics as to what gets funded. Conducted by nonprofit media executive Bill Buzenberg and former New York Times polling editor Marjorie Connelly, the study found that approximately 40 percent of the outlets surveyed said they have written guidelines about what kind of funding they will accept, while just about a third have written guidelines with respect to the appropriate level of communication with funders.

The study also found that about half the funders of nonprofit media outlets (52 percent) make grants related to issues on which they are also trying to change public policy or behavior; that six in ten funders awarded grants in the last five years to finance a particular story, expose, or investigation; that more foundations are funding nonprofit news organizations and are spending more money on media; and that funders are evenly divided as to whether they are funding media more as part of their larger policy agenda work or to improve journalism.

The report includes essays exploring a variety ethical questions written by Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica; Joe Bergantino, executive director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting; Daniel Green, director of program advocacy and communications for the Gates Foundation; Kathy Im, director of journalism and media at MacArthur Foundation, and Peter Slevin of Northwestern University; and Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian.

"While both commercial media and public broadcasting have longstanding rules and systems that insulate journalists from pressure by the revenue side, there is new cohort in nonprofit news, heavily digital, that is new and finding its way," said API executive director Tom Rosenstiel. "It's vital that this exciting new area of journalism establish best practices so the public has faith in the work. This research will help move that forward."

"." John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Press Release 04/20/2016.