Is philanthropy the answer to paying for nonprofit investigative journalism?
While journalism ethicist Edward Wasserman notably commented “several years ago” that asking for money every now and then to keep afloat isn’t “a real business model,” ProPublica’s general manager Richard Tofel recently stated that “philanthropy is how these non-profits are sustained.”
In 2010, nonprofit newsroom ProPublica was the first online-only news site to win a Pulitzer Prize.[Full disclosure: iMediaEthics is a not-for-profit news site.]
Tofel’s comments, and the question of nonprofit journalism sustainability, were both brought up at a workshop at the Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium, and in articles by American Journalism Review and NonProfit Quarterly. The symposium was held earlier this month.
The workshop panel discussion included comments from representatives of public broadcasting station WGBH, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Frontline, and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, among others, about how nonprofit investigative journalism can be funded.
The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Robert Rosenthal noted that while the center is nonprofit they are “charging for our content” to help cover expenses. CIR bills itself as the “oldest nonprofit investigative news organization” in the U.S.
ProPublica cited a combination of fundraising, sponsorships and other ways to keep it in business.
AJR reported that Calvin Sims of the Ford Foundation, which has given significant grants to journalism ventures, explained the foundation “looks for ‘big influence and impact,’ for the ‘value added of the content you produce.'” Sims also noted that the foundation doesn’t “fund advocacy journalism” but has started a “$50 million initiative for documentary funds.”
Read more about the discussion here.