Foundation Journalism 'Definitely a Trend'
For those who read last Friday’s Omblog item on the collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News, here’s evidence that financially-stressed media outlets will continue to look to nonpartisan foundations for help in providing content.
Bill Mitchell, who has been writing about foundation-funded journalism for the Poynter Institute on media studies in Florida, reports that The New York Times has started exploring ways to have foundations help underwrite news-gathering costs.
In a story on Poynter’s site last Friday, Mitchell quotes Craig Whitney, an assistant managing editor who serves as the paper’s standards editor: “We’ve begun to ask ourselves whether it would be possible to get the kind of support that NPR does from foundations for its journalism.” No decisions have been made, Whitney told Mitchell, but he said that the notion of seeking foundations to underwrite specialized coverage areas “seems conceivable.”
In his Sunday column, my friend Clark Hoyt, The Times’ Public Editor (equivalent to an ombudsman), wrote about how the newspaper has given permission for California freelance journalist Lindsey Hoshaw to use an innovative Web site, Spot.Us, to seek donations to pursue a story that she would then try to sell to The Times. “For The Times,” Hoyt wrote, “it is another step into a new world unthinkable even a few years ago.”
ProPublicaand Kaiser Health News have been involved in some high-visibility collaborations with The Post and other nationally-known newspapers. But now, nonpartisan regional and local foundations are starting to explore ways to provide content to media organizations.
The Kansas Health Institute News Service, established about three years ago, covers health policy news about Kansas and posts stories on its Web site while also offering them to newspapers throughout the state.
Jim McLean, who oversees the news service for the institute, said in an interview that the idea grew out of a recognition that staff reductions at Kansas newspapers were making it harder for them to provide adequate coverage of health issues.
With three reporters, McLean said the KHI News Service does “original reporting.”
“We’ve had some moderate success in getting newspapers to use our stories,” he said. “There were certainly some reporters and editors who were (initially) skeptical... that there was an agenda that we were prosecuting. We’ve had to prove to them over time” that this isn’t the case. He said the news service has been able to gain credibility because his reporting staff includes respected reporters who previously worked at Kansas papers. Also, he said, the news service is “absolutely objective and independent.”
“It’s definitely a trend,” said Matt James, the senior vice president for media and public education at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation funds Kaiser Health News.
James said a growing number of foundations, including those operating on the regional or local level, have contacted Kaiser to learn more about how they, too, might help provide nonpartisan journalism for specific issues.
They “want to know ‘how did you do this, why did you do that, (and) what should we look out for,’” James said in an interview today.
He said he stresses two things. First, foundations need to take a “long-term investment” approach. That is, they can’t launch a journalism program and then hope to secure funding to continue operations after the initial year or so. He said he tells inquiring foundations that they need to ensure that their involvement in journalism is a “core part of your operating program.” He cites the fact that the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not a grant-giving operation, has made a long-term and enduring financial commitment to fund Kaiser Health News.
Second, he said, he tells foundations that “if you have any sort of an agenda, leave that at the door.”
To be credible with news organizations, he said, “there has to be an absolute firewall” that ensures that the foundation’s journalistic enterprise is totally independent and free of outside influence.
In the case of the Kaiser Health News collaboration with The Post, for instance, the newspaper maintains full control over the editorial content. Any KHN stories receive final editing by The Post, which is free to reject them if they don’t meet Post standards. If a KHN story appears in The Post, the reporter is clearly identified as being with KHN and this description appears at the bottom of each piece: “This story was produced through a collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN is a service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organizations unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.”
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