Document of the Day: Funding the News in the Wake of the Trump Bump

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Sign of the Times: After the 2016 election, foundations began injecting funding into the already troubled US news media industry. Photo: Jose Moreno, Unsplash

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited version of the major findings of the recently released study Funding the News: Foundations and Nonprofit Media, co-published by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

A comprehensive study released earlier this week delved into the nonprofit news sector following the flurry of funding into the troubled US news industry in what has become known as the Trump Bump.

In it, researchers analyzed 32,422 journalism and media-related grants totaling $1.8 billion between 2010 and 2015. The study drew on previously published research and interviews with more than 30 news nonprofit journalists, experts and philanthropists, reviewing the growth of the nonprofit news sector leading up to the 2016 election.

Among other findings, researchers noted that during the six-year period, eight out of 10 foundation dollars flowed to just 25 news nonprofits, with four investigative journalism units topping the list. The top grantees were notable for featuring six deep-vertical news organizations that specialize in coverage of topics like the environment or cities, and six nonprofits that have a clear ideological perspective. Overall, national news nonprofits were highly dependent on about two dozen institutional funders for nearly 70 percent of the grants.

Where the Money Goes: US foundation funding for national news nonprofits, 2010-2015. Graphic: Funding the News

The figure above displays the distribution of foundation grants to various types of national news nonprofits between 2010 and 2015. In this case, those specializing in investigative/public affairs reporting received $83.7 million in funding, or 39 percent of the approximately $216 million distributed over the six-year period. Top grant recipients included the Center for Public Integrity ($26.2 million), ProPublica ($23.5 million), Sunlight Foundation ($21.4 million) and the Center for Investigative Reporting ($18.9 million). Nonprofits covering international/foreign affairs (or supporting journalists on the beat) received $30.3 million or 14 percent of funding in the area. Top recipients included the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting ($12.5 million), and the International Center for Journalists ($3 million).

Researchers found that while many innovative projects continue to take place, grantmaking remains far below what’s needed in terms of financial capacity and news production and that neither the sector as a whole, nor any other form of commercial media have yet to be able to meaningfully fill the gaps in coverage created by the collapse of the newspaper industry.

Other major findings include:
  • Journalism and communication programs at universities along with the Newseum received $369 million or 21 percent of the $1.8 billion in relevant funding.
  • Journalist professional development (supporting journalist associations, awards, training workshops and fellowships) received an estimated $122 million or approximately 7 percent of the $1.8 billion in funding analyzed.
  • Journalism-related research, technology development, legal support and philanthropic coordination received approximately $79 million or 4 percent of all funding analyzed.
Top 10 US foundation funders of nonprofit media-related activities, 2010-2015

Don’t miss the Shorenstein Center’s other recent report, Funding Journalism, Finding Innovation: Success Stories and Ideas for Creative, Sustainable Partnerships, which includes a series of case studies including the Ford Foundation and ACLU partnership for reporting on the Flint Michigan water crisis, the California Endowment for youth media hubs and the MacArthur Foundation five-year grants to nonprofit newsrooms, including the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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