Foundation funding is influencing reporting in international journalism


Alliance magazine


Funding by private foundations is inadvertently changing the international journalism it supports, according to a new study led by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The study was conducted by Dr Martin Scott of UEA’s School of International Development, Dr Mel Bunce from City, University of London, and Dr Kate Wright at the University of Edinburgh and involved 74 interviews with representatives from the most active foundations funding international non-profit news.

The researchers conclude that foundation funding unintentionally reshapes international journalism to favour outcome-oriented, explanatory reporting in a small number of niche subject areas.

Lead author Dr Scott said: ‘Foundations support a significant amount of important international journalism. Without it, very few of the non-profit news outlets we spoke to would survive. But we are concerned that the nature of this journalism – and the role that it plays in democracy – is inadvertently being shaped by a handful of foundations, rather than by journalists themselves.

‘For journalists collaborating with foundations, one of the key implications of the study is to consider not just how to protect their independence, but also to reflect on what kinds of journalism they want to produce.’

According to Media Impact Funders, foundations awarded more than $1.3 billion annually to media and journalism between 2011 and 2015. The study identified the nature of funding has caused three significant changes to international reporting.

Firstly, to secure and retain funding, journalists are carrying out new marketing and administrative tasks leading to a reduction in news output. Secondly, to show the impact of their work, journalists are producing longer-form, off-agenda content aimed at specialist audiences rather than shorter, timelier pieces for wider audiences. Thirdly, foundation funding is narrowing the focus of journalists to cover specific thematic areas that align with the priorities of the most active foundations.

The study, which was funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, was published in the journal Journalism Studies.

Download and read the study here:

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