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How for-profit newsrooms can adapt API’s nonprofit funding guidelines

Earlier this year, API released two sets of guidelines on the ethics of funding nonprofit news, one set for philanthropic funders and one set for nonprofit newsrooms. These guidelines were the product of more than two years of work exploring the question of how to best ensure editorial independence, including a meeting of 18 funders, nonprofit media executives and scholars in October 2016.

The guidelines for nonprofit news organizations were also designed to be easily adopted for commercial news organization that might partner with nonprofit media or accept grants themselves from charitable funders to help produce news content.

The guidelines themselves were developed in response to research released by API in April 2016 that identified areas of ethical uncertainty and vulnerability in the growing arena of nonprofit media. The research included surveys of funders, nonprofit media outlets and commercial news outlets about their practices with nonprofit funding.

Among other things, the research found that very few commercial newsrooms had any written rules or guidelines to maintain editorial independence when they were partnering with nonprofit media or accepting foundation funding: Only 13 percent of for-profit newsroom said their newsrooms had written guidelines about what type of organizations they will and will partner with, three-quarters said they did not have any guidelines. (The rest either were not sure or did not respond. What’s more, only two of the for-profit newsrooms in the study said they posted those guidelines publicly.)

For newsrooms thinking about how to adapt these guidelines to their needs, the steps are fairly easy. Start by changing the phrase “nonprofit media” to “news organization.” Some phrasing about partnering with nonprofit media probably apply. Then read the guidelines and consider if anything needs to be adapted or added — for example, the guidelines on pre-publication editorial review may not be relevant about partnering with nonprofit media but would for accepting funding. The guidelines on transparency would likely remain relevant for both cases, while guidelines on what kinds of organizations the newsroom will or will not partner with would likely need to be added.

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