Journalism and Media Grantmaking: 5 Things You Need to Know and 5 Ways to Get Started

Journalism and Media Grant Making: Five Things to Know, Five Ways to Get Started was first published in 2011 by the William Penn Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help grantmakers support reliable journalism as newspapers struggled with the collapse of the advertising-based business model. This updated version, produced by Media Impact Funders with support from the Wyncote Foundation, reflects shifts in the field as well as lessons learned through the expansion of media funding practice, as more grantmakers have gotten involved.

Since 2011, the decline of journalism and news and information entities has further intensified, exacerbated by even greater upheaval in the news industry. Newspapers have been steadily shrinking, digital news startups have not found stable business models, and news consumers’ habits have changed significantly—moving from a reliance on print and broadcast sources to online and mobile, and shifting toward news shared by friends and peers rather than directly from original content producers.

Most foundations were either not funding journalism in 2011, or were just beginning to, recognizing the growing need. The purpose of the first booklet was to encourage such funding, but also to advise and caution grantmakers to be mindful of important basic principles, practices, and questions to think about before launching into action based purely on civic urgency and the desire to address the need.

Such principles and practices will always be needed as guideposts for new as well as seasoned funders, whatever their grantmaking strategy. But with the growth of the journalism funding field, and with ongoing attention being paid to “news ecosystems,” funders can now incorporate new approaches. There are many more instructive examples from the grantmaking field, as well as a wider range of resources for nonprofit journalism that can be tapped. We also have the benefit now of learning from unsuccessful initiatives and from the ongoing challenges of organizational and mission sustainability that news organizations face.

When news organizations falter, issues at the center of civic life—education, the environment, health, social justice and economic progress—receive less independent scrutiny from journalists, and citizens have less access to the information they need to engage effectively in their communities. At the same time, misleading or false stories masquerading as news have proliferated across the news ecosystem, undermining public trust in reliable journalism, exploiting the information vacuum left by shrinking news operations, and disrupting civic dialogue.

Growing numbers of foundations have stepped forward to address these challenges, using a variety of strategies and approaches. A few larger foundations are prominent in this shift, but increasingly community and place-based foundations have joined in. The Media Grants Data Map—produced by Foundation Center, in collaboration with Media Impact Funders—found that foundations invested $1.2 billion in grants to U.S.-based journalism, news and information recipients between 2009 and 2015.

The scope of grantmaking has also broadened in ways that reflect a growing sense of urgency and a diversity of approaches. These include approaches that support not only traditional accountability reporting, but also the ability of community members to tell their own stories, as well as to locate narratives and sources they can recognize from their own lives in the news.

The current news and information environment opens exciting paths to experimentation and innovation. Digital platforms are creating fresh opportunities to bring diverse voices into the mix. Collaborations are improving the quality and expanding the reach of credible journalism. Journalists and news entrepreneurs are experimenting with new practices for civic engagement. Emerging models for financial sustainability focus on the need for stronger community interaction.

This booklet updates lessons from the field, with examples of greater investment and innovation in journalism. It describes how foundations are responding to the information gap challenge within their own missions and grantmaking practices. We hope to encourage even more foundations to get involved.

We are especially pleased to work with Media Impact Funders (MIF) to publish this booklet. MIF has amplified many examples of effective journalism funding, and will be central to growing the awareness, understanding and critical assessment of the practice in an ongoing fashion. MIF has the capacity to convene around best practices by established funders and practitioners, to play a connecting role, to serve as an authenticator of the importance of this field, and to elevate the vital role of journalism to communities in a democracy.

Working on this booklet—both the first time around and in this revision—has helped us to articulate and share what we’ve been learning alongside our philanthropic peers. It has also surfaced new examples that we can learn from. We hope you will also find it useful in your own work.

David Haas
Vice Chair
Wyncote Foundation