Guiding principles for nonprofit newsrooms
Journalism produced by nonprofit newsrooms is becoming a more important part of the media landscape and foundation support. In addition, increasing numbers of commercial news publishers are partnering with nonprofit media, and in some cases, accepting direct grants themselves.
The following principles were collected by and for nonprofit media and are offered as a guide to help both newsrooms and their funders understand their respective roles, and to protect the independence, integrity and impact of this work.
- News organizations should retain editorial control. They should not relinquish legal and ethical responsibilities to funders or to the public.
- News organizations should not allow pre-publication editorial review, and never accept directed conclusions from funders.
- Journalists should not promise outcomes in advance.
- News organizations should have a review process to determine whether to accept and how to handle funds for limited purposes, such as coverage of a beat or issue, especially if funders have an interest in related policy outcomes.
- News organizations should aim for the highest practicable degree of transparency regarding editorial, donor and business standards and operations, both as a matter of journalistic integrity and because of the transparency journalists demand from other institutions.
- News organizations should clearly disclose their ethics policies, mission statements, conflict of interest policies and fundraising policies on their websites.
- News organizations should clearly disclose their federal tax returns, audited financial statements and basic information about the staff and board of directors on their website; they should also explain how to contact the newsroom to report errors or make complaints on their websites.
- Donor information should be readily available to the public. The public should know who paid for the journalism. Projects funded by specific funders should include notifications to the public.
- News organizations should consider in advance how funding decisions will be explained to the public, including critics. Avoid acceptance of funding when it would compromise the integrity or credibility of the journalism.
- News organizations should accept anonymous donations, including from donor advised funds, only under carefully considered conditions. To do so, each news organization should develop criteria before considering donations.
- News organizations should also encourage all donors to be public and should explain the importance of transparency to the credibility and impact their work.
Communications with funders
- Independent journalism is a public good. Journalism can produce impact and change, but news organizations cannot and should not promise specific outcomes. News organizations can, however, summarize what they have learned during the course of their work.
- News organizations should clearly inform funders of the news organization’s mission and guiding values.
- News organizations should help funders understand that support for independent media is in their interest and differs from that of PR and advocacy organizations.
- News organizations have a strong preference for general support on the principle that it best preserves independent journalism. Any fundraising policy should clearly state conditions governing acceptance of general support, coverage of issues and beats, and coverage of specific projects and stories.
- When civic or community engagement is part of a grant, journalists and funders should agree in advance what that mean
- When possible, news organizations, not funders, should initiate conversations about the journalism they wish to produce. In cases where a funder contacts a news organization first, it is better if the coverage areas being discussed should already be part of the news organization’s portfolio, or on a list of projects or beats for which the journalists are seeking funding.
- News organizations should have written policies that establish these principles of editorial independence, transparency and communication, which will be the starting point of any interaction with funders.