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Working paper co-published by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.
The 2016 election in the United States sparked a spate of activity and debate in the philanthropic world, with a few areas receiving more attention than the media. Talks about increasing funding for non-profit journalistic initiatives began almost immediately after Election Day. Attacks on the press by President-elect Donald J. Trump have been reinforced by what has been called the “Trump bump”, as foundations and wealthy donors aim to revive a deeply struggling news media system and the tide of extreme populism and intolerance to counter, fueled by fake news.
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However, the elections also brought long-term and difficult trends into sharper focus. The debate over the future of news in today’s turbulent democracy takes place against a complex historical background. For decades, newspapers have produced journalism that has done most to inform the public debate and hold those in power accountable. Although the media system has evolved rapidly over the past 20 years, research has shown that newspapers remain the core of the country’s information ecology, and serve as the primary source for original reporting on issues, corruption and political debate, and such coverage forms a wide range. from debates, from television news to social media to interpersonal conversations.
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During this period, however, most newspapers also suffered from a catastrophic decline in revenue, a significant reduction in staff and a corresponding loss of editorial capacity. In most regions of the country, the decline of local newspapers often did not meet the information needs of voters. In these communities, people too often lacked a reliable local news source that could explain, contextualize, and verify conflicting claims and interpretations. In the absence of quality sources for local news to rely on, it has become much easier for news consumers to turn to their ideologically loyal outlets, whether it be a cable news network, a talk radio, a website, or the fake news broadcast through their channels. social networks.
In strategy sessions, in editorial offices and on campuses, there is serious concern that a crisis of civic culture is developing, linked to the loss of information opportunities, which requires a massive mobilization of organizational resources and professional expertise that are in short supply. . . A select few foundations and their subsidies had to make the public aware that the decimated newspaper industry needed better resources and stronger informative non-profit sector. The 2016 election allowed them to make this argument louder and clearer. Journalism, the lifeblood of informed communities and functioning democracies, desperately needs help, and it needs help now. A greater interest in this plan and a sense of urgency is reflected in some parts of the philanthropic community. To catalyze greater funding for non-profit news, various organizations, such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Media Impact Foundations, play a leading role through research, institutional organizing, and meetings.
But for a number of reasons, current strategic planning requires a fuller understanding of the types of news organizations and journalism initiatives funded by foundations over the past decades, and the respective successes and failures of these funding approaches. First, the vast majority of news non-profit organizations still rely heavily on fundamental funding for revenue, and even the few who have significantly diversified their revenue streams receive a significant portion of their funding from foundations. Therefore, the appreciation of fundamental investments is very important as they remain the financial backbone of the non-profit news sector. Second, foundations are not passive supporters of non-profit media, but play an active role in setting goals, setting priorities and promoting specific strategies to respond to the collapse of the newspaper industry. Through grant and funding opportunities, foundations actively form shared ways of thinking about social issues that unite organizational leaders, experts, and donors who are not otherwise connected in common approaches and strategies. In addition, foundations have played a behind-the-scenes role in managing the non-profit news sector, including the types of topics covered, organizations supported and regional priorities.
With these considerations in mind, in Chapter 1 of our report, based on previously published research along with interviews with more than 30 non-profit journalists, pundits and philanthropists, we examine the growth of the non-profit news sector in the run-up to after the 2016 elections. , highlight key trends and challenges. In Section 2, we analyze 32,422 journalism and media grants totaling $ 1.8 billion distributed by 6,568 foundations between 2010 and 2015, the most recent year for which full data is available. We assess patterns of funding for the production and distribution of non-profit journalism, such as subsidiary activities such as grants to journalism museums and higher education, support for journalism research and technology development, and grants for journalism associations and professional development. These different categories of journalism and media-related grants highlight the variations that foundations have to face, as they often have to prioritize one area over others. In Section 3, we conclude by discussing our key findings in the context of key themes and issues raised by our interviewees, highlighting new investments and recently launched initiatives.
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Decisions on subsidies made by foundations in the years leading up to the 2016 election are historic, and provide a benchmark for what has been done in the past and a roadmap for where philanthropy should go today. As with any study, our study has several limitations and caveats that we highlight. However, based on our extensive cross-checking of the data and the comments of more than a dozen relevant experts on the draft report, we are confident that our analysis identifies the key patterns in fund funding comprehensively and accurately, and helps to facilitate discussion and planning. about the enormous challenges we now face, our democracy stands for.
Several of the funding categories we evaluated were not of primary importance to our research, but represented activities or initiatives aimed at improving the quality of journalism and the understanding of its audience. These other subsidy categories reflect the difficult choices that funders have to make, because prioritizing one of these areas, even if it is to improve the practice and scope of journalism in the community, can leave immediate support for news production. . Specifically for these other activities:
Regarding direct funding for non-profit news production, our findings suggest that many innovative projects and experiments have been and continue to take place, but subsidy provision remains far below what is needed. We find strong geographical differences in fundamental funding, a significant concentration of resources in a few dozen successful news-non-profit organizations on behalf of covering a few issues, and a disproportionately large number of ideologically oriented publications. The non-profit news sector has grown significantly over the past two decades, but it has not grown as much as some predicted. To be sure, there are non-profit success stories in various states and cities, and among a handful of national outlets, but in terms of financial capacity and news production, neither the sector as a whole nor any other form of commercial media managed to achieve what it is capable of filling the gaps in coverage created by the collapse of the newspaper industry. In terms of specific points of our research:
Much more funding will be needed to address these differences and shortcomings in the non-profit news sector. Part of the problem is that, despite more than 6,000 foundations supporting journalism and media-related activities in the first half of this decade, only a few dozen foundations provided the bulk of direct support for news gathering. Particularly at the state and local levels, most non-profit media are funded by large national foundations instead of public foundations or public charities and donations. Given that these other types of grant makers have no tradition of donating to non-profit media, they would benefit from working with reputable foundations. However, as we highlight in the conclusion, several recent trends give reason for optimism.
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(b. 1982). Launched in the late 1960s, the current 350 non-commercial public television stations reach about 120 million viewers each month, while their more than 900 public radio counterparts attract 65 million listeners. As online platforms, these public media stations and related programming engage tens of millions of people through streaming content, downloads and online articles, and various stations take a leading role in efforts to rebuild their local news ecosystems. Other notable examples of decades-old non-profits include the Center for Investigation (since 1969) and the Center for Public Integrity (since 1989), which produce reports, books, documentaries and online stories, often in collaboration with other news agencies. .
But it was not until the mid-2000s, when newspapers faced a deepening financial crisis, that dozens of digital news nonprofits emerged. In 2000, at the beginning of the Internet age, the total revenue of commercial newspapers from print advertising was $ 67 billion. Fourteen years later, newspaper print and digital advertising revenues adjusted for inflation dropped to $ 20 billion, meaning newspapers
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