Recent convenings debate non-profit journalism

Claire Hoffman

Over the last six months, I’ve participated in two panels on non-profit journalism and philanthropy. I see non-profit journalism as a response to two related crises. The first is the proliferation of news outlets on the web, which is threatening the business model of traditional media outlets. In the last year, a second crisis has surfaced, a crisis in the credibility and independence of the press itself.

The first panel – organized by the Synergos Global Philanthropy Circle – met in March, at a time when a recent Gallup Poll had found that only 32 per cent of Americans trust the media, the lowest figure in the history of such polling. In these circumstances, how can philanthropists support an empowered, intelligent press?

An idea that surfaced from the panel was voiced by Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He suggested that part of the erosion of trust in media is that much of it comes from coastal cities and is not representative of the country.

In response, ProPublica has recently asked for proposals from smaller news organizations to fund a year-long, ProPublica-style investigative project in their town.

The next panel was staged by The Philanthropy Workshop in July. It centered more on emerging philanthropic efforts, including NewsMatch – a collaboration between the Democracy Fund, the Knight Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation that provides up to $3 million in matching funds to support non-profit news organizations – and InterNews, which helps refugees arriving in Greece to get information critical to their survival, alongside the news they receive on their mobile phones from other local news sources.

Both these conversations underscored that independent non-profit journalism is important in the social change tool chest to educate and empower people.

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Claire Hoffman is a Trustee of the Goldhirsh Foundation.

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