News Philanthropy Network: Insights from comprehensive new research on the state of journalism funding

November 30, 2023

Media Impact Funders and The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago, earlier this year conducted the first comprehensive survey since 2015 of journalism funders and the field they support.  

On Thursday Nov. 30, the News Philanthropy Network hosted a conversation with the report’s authors about the report’s key findings, what it means for the future of journalism philanthropy, and how news fundraisers can leverage insights from the study.  

The discussion featured MIF Consultant Jennifer Preston, former VP of Journalism at Knight Foundation; Jennifer Benz, Deputy Director, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research; and Tom Rosenstiel, the Eleanor Merrill Professor on the Future of Journalism at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism and a senior fellow at NORC. Lenfest Institute Head of Development and Donor Relationships Rebecca Forman moderated the conversation. 

You can find the slides here.

Key findings from the study include:    

  • More than half of funders said their journalism grantmaking had increased in the last five years, with roughly a third reporting funding journalism for the first time. The trend is set to continue, with more than half saying they anticipated bigger investments in the future.   
  • While 64 percent of funders said they prefer to fund nonprofit journalism, most of the others said tax status doesn’t matter (19%), they prefer a mix (12%), or they preferred supporting for-profit outlets (2%). Responding to a separate question, 38% of funders said they’ve supported a for-profit news organization in the last five years.  
  • The survey shows progress on funding disclosure and conflict of interest policies since the 2015 report. Seven in 10 nonprofit news operations now have written policies about disclosing funders, up from four in 10 eight years ago. Nearly half have written guidelines about what money they will accept, up from just over a third.  
  • But the risk of conflict of interest has grown alongside funding. More funders are financing journalism in areas where they also do policy work (57% vs. 52% eight years ago), and four in 10 outlets take money to do specific reporting suggested by a funder, though that percentage has dropped significantly from 59% eight years ago. 

Rosenstiel said after the first survey was conducted, the American Press Institute worked with the Institute for Nonprofit News to create general conflict of interest guidelines that all INN member organizations had to adopt. While this helped move nonprofits in the right direction, for-profits continue to create fundraising policies on an ad-hoc basis. Any organization who wants to improve donor transparency can easily start by utilizing API Guidelines and INN Membership Standards

Another easy tip for creating a more ethical fundraising program is listing donors on your website. Forman said not only will this help your organization be more transparent, but it also signals to funders who might not know about journalism funding that they too can make a philanthropic investment in this work.  

Preston shared key tips for how this research can inform your newsroom’s priorities to align with funding trends:  

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