While nonprofit journalism organizations such as ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and MinnPost have made contributions to the civic life of the country, they are not an adequate solution to the market failure and professional shortcomings of commercial journalism, a study from New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development finds.
Published online in Journalism, the report, Can Foundations Solve the Journalism Crisis?, found that successful nonprofit news outlets backed by the likes of the Ford, Gates, Knight, MacArthur, and Open Society foundations have shed light on critical civic issues and published outstanding investigative reporting. At the same time, the study found that nonprofit news organizations struggle to balance funders' demands that they achieve both civic impact, via the dissemination of free content, and economic sustainability, via paying audiences and corporate sponsors. That dynamic ultimately puts pressure on nonprofit news outlets to reproduce dominant commercial media practices designed to capture broad audiences or to orient their reporting toward a smaller audience of elites.
The report also found that project-based funding from foundations may skew media attention toward issues favored by donors. An analysis of the professional and educational composition of boards of directors at commercial news organizations, foundations, and nonprofit news organizations found that business leaders and financial elites dominate the oversight of all three types of organizations, albeit to a slightly lesser degree at foundations and nonprofit news outlets.
"In the ongoing financial crisis in U.S. journalism, philanthropic foundation-supported nonprofits are increasingly hailed as the remedy to the lack of civic-oriented news production," said Rodney Benson, chair of NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and the study's author. "This study questions whether foundation-supported news organizations are an adequate solution to what ails journalism."