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Guidance on philanthropic funding of media and news

As nonprofit funding of news grows, what are the best practices for ensuring editorial independence?

The following two sets of broad guidelines of best practices, one for funders and another for nonprofit media organizations, are the product of more than two years of work exploring the question.

That work began with surveys of funders, nonprofit media outlets and commercial media outlets on what their current practices are, described in “Charting new ground: The ethical terrain of nonprofit journalism,” which the American Press Institute released in April 2016. This work was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In October 2016, we gathered 18 funders, nonprofit media executives and scholars who are engaged in this world. Each group created a rough draft of key guiding principles, which the other group commented on in a full-room discussion. In the weeks since we have worked to refine the language with the feedback from both groups.

What follows are the ideas surfaced from this process. The gathering was supported by a grant from the Craig Newmark Foundation.

Since this work began, the importance of the nonprofit media sector has only grown in significance and some mile markers have already occurred.

The MacArthur Foundation announced commitment to general operating grants, signaled in an essay for our own work.

More recent reports suggest increased donations following Election Day.

The guidelines come issued in the name of API. Informed by all our conversations, they do not necessarily carry the stamp of approval, in full, of an individual organization whose perspective or employee’s perspective was shared within the process. But we do hope they carry their wisdom.

We invite media organizations or funders to contact us about how they used or adapted these principles in their own work.

Read the guiding principles for funders of nonprofit media.

Read the guiding principles for nonprofit newsrooms.

Participating at the event, Oct. 6

Funders

  • Molly de Aguiar, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation
  • Elizabeth Christopherson, Rita Allen Foundation
  • Tim Isgitt, Humanity United
  • Michael McPherson, Spencer Foundation
  • Lauren Pabst, MacArthur Foundation
  • Barbara Raab, Ford Foundation
  • Gabriella Stern, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Vince Stehle, Media Impact Funders
  • Chancellar Williams, Open Society Foundations

Nonprofit media executives and educators

  • Karen Avery, PBS Foundation
  • Sandy Close, New America Media
  • Sue Cross, Institute for Nonprofit News
  • Burton Glass, New England Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Andy Hall, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
  • Steve Katz, Mother Jones
  • Nicholas Lemann, Columbia University
  • Charles Lewis, Investigative Reporting Workshop / American University
  • Richard Tofel, ProPublica

From API

  • Tom Rosenstiel, executive director
  • Kevin Loker, program manager
  • Laurie Beth Harris, editorial coordinator
  • William Buzenberg, consultant
  • Marjorie Connelly, consultant

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