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How news organizations handle disclosure and transparency of funding

Transparency is considered a core element of journalism and an important feature of foundations. And while the most foundations and newsrooms report in this survey that they practice a high degree of transparency in their dealings with each other, few have concrete rules or written regulations regarding disclosure.

When it comes to disclosure, the commercial media in the survey stand out higher than the nonprofit. Nearly all of the commercial media outlets surveyed, for instance, disclose their relationship with funders and collaborators in some manner. Just over half cite them either within the story or in notes that accompany the story. About 15 percent share bylines with their nonprofit news organization collaborators. And a few news organizations do both: share bylines and mention the collaboration in the story or sidebar.

How disclose partnerships Commercial media
Always cite them either inside or in notes that accompany the stories or projects on which we collaborated 53%
Share bylines with non-profit partners 14%
Sometimes, but not always cite non-profit partners in stories depending on the nature of the collaboration 9%
Identify them in a designated place on our website 5%
Multiple ways – share bylines and cite them in notes that accompany the stories 4%
Never disclose collaborations with non-profit organizations 1%
Depends/Other 2%
Don’t know/No answer 11%

Data Source: Survey conducted 2015. Question: Commercial media -- "How do you disclose collaborations you have with nonprofit partners or funders?"

American Press Institute

The notion of disclosure is so universal that that only one news organization surveyed, a for-profit, said a partner once asked not to be identified. The request, moreover, was denied.

On the nonprofit media side, the majority disclose their funders in some manner, but not all nonprofit media disclose all of them.

In all, two-thirds of nonprofit media organizations surveyed said they listed all or most of their donors on their website or in their annual report. Of those, about 6 in 10 do so regardless of the level of support they receive.

That answer, by way of comparison, would put some of these media outside the standard called for by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN). In its membership standards, INN says its members should publicly disclose all financial support above $1,000.

How many funders do orgs disclose Percent nonprofit media
All 40%
Most 22%
Some 16%
None 3%

Data Source: Survey conducted 2015. Question: Nonprofit media-- "How many of your donors does your organization publicly list on your website or annual report?" (Those with no response are not shown)

American Press Institute

Some nonprofit media do more than simply list their funders on their websites. They mention them whenever content is published that the funder has supported. For instance, nearly a third of nonprofit media outlets said they identify funders when a specific story or project they helped underwrite has been produced. Another 4 in 10 disclose the funder’s support in some other way. A substantial minority — about a quarter — said they do not identify funders with the content they support at all.

How disclose funding of specific content Percent nonprofit media
Identify when a specific story has been produced with a funder’s support 31%
Explain the content area the funder has underwritten 26%
Stipulate the specific issues or problems a funder is providing support for 15%
Don’t identify funders on stories, only in our contributors list generally 23%
Don’t identify funders 1%
Don’t accept funding for specific content 10%
Depends/Other 5%

Data Source: Survey conducted 2015. Question: Nonprofit media-"How do you disclose the relationship with a funder on specific content they have underwritten?" (More than one response accepted.)

American Press Institute

Nonprofit media organizations are closely divided over whether to have a written official policy regarding the disclosure of funders. Forty percent said they have a written policy posted to their website or included in their annual report regarding the acknowledgement of their contributors, and 35 percent said they do not have a written policy.

Beyond naming funders, do nonprofits list the amounts those funders give? In practice, many nonprofit media that do disclose funders do not reveal the exact amount of each contribution. Rather, a common practice is to put amounts into funding ranges, such as $1,000 to 5,000, or $5,000 to $50,000.

And what do the foundations require of their grantees about disclosure? Nearly 6 in 10 of the foundations surveyed said they have no specific policy about what their grantees disclose other than what is required by law. As with other dimensions of funding of media, much of this is considered the right thing to do rather than something stipulated or required. As one funder with no disclosure stipulations said, “They all disclose our support; it’s just good journalistic practice.”

Another funder said they request that the foundation’s support is acknowledged in any publicity, but said, “It is not a requirement that they make grants public but nor should they hide them or refuse to make them public.”

Few foundations reported that they require grantees to disclose or recognize their support in any specific manner.

However, from the funders side, 8 in 10 foundations publicly disclose their recipients and amount of the grants.

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