Do you think nonprofit journalism’s reliance on philanthropic donors and sponsors leads to a tendency to tone down potential criticism of funders or even of the entire spectrum of philanthropic support?

Rick Cohen, in his response to Andrew Beaujon’s commentary on the Texas Tribune’s nonprofit journalism.

via Nonprofit Quarterly:

The author, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon, draws on a blog posting by journalist Stephen Robert Morse suggesting a couple of problems with the nonprofit business model of the Austin-based Texas Tribune. According to Beaujon, Morse argues that regular newspaper journalists now have to compete with “bigger name Tribune journalists whose work newspapers can run for free.” He also contends that a nonprofit newspaper like The Texas Tribune, dependent on sponsors and grants, is not likely to “do anything that might cheese off its sponsors.

FJP: It’s an ongoing debate. Thoughts? (via futurejournalismproject)

ME: This argument has never sat well with me - the notion that a philanthropic funder is somehow more corrupting than a commercial funder is bizarre. Look at the motivations at work. A foundation is investing because they believe the work is important to the public, an advertiser is investing to reach your audience. The advertiser wants an immediate an measurable return on investment, whereas even if a foundation wants to fund a certain kind of reporting in line with their mission (such as environmental reporting) their motivation (more public awareness about the issue) is much more inline with with motivations of the journalist. 

Sure there may be bad eggs - foundations that want to get a certain point of view out - but there has always been a need for a firewall to protect against this kind of interference in all news organizations. 

What no one seems to talk about is the corrupting influence of shareholders who have a direct influence in how many commercial news organizations are run. We have seen clearly the impact of shareholders demands for double digit profits eroding news organizations investment in their product. That to me is way more problematic that nonprofit news organizations who are funding their operations through individual and foundation giving.

Let’s talk about that. 

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