Adapting to digital: nonprofit news and funders’ relationships


Struggling to adapt to the digital media eco-system, The New York Times is embarking on an ambitious plan inspired by the strategies of Netflix, Spotify, and HBO, WIRED magazine reports: invest heavily in a core offering (which, for the Times, is journalism) while continuously adding new online services and features (from personalized fitness advice and interactive newsbots to virtual reality films) so that a subscription becomes indispensable to the lives of its existing subscribers and more attractive to future ones.

The Times’s former CEO Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was slow to adapt to emerging technologies.

“I believe that for a long time to come this information superhighway, far from resembling a modern interstate, will more likely approach a roadway in India: chaotic, crowded and swarming with cows. Or, as one might say, udder confusion….,” he said in a 1994 speech.

As journalism’s traditional business models continue to shift, more news organizations are turning to nonprofit and foundation support as a way to support their journalism, notes Laurie Beth Harris, Editorial Coordinator of the American Press Institute.

But taking money from private foundations rather than commercial advertisers comes with its own ethical issues concerning how news organizations maintain their editorial independence. Funding can be often more tied to content than in the commercial world. And funders often have policy goals in mind, she writes:

At a Center for International Media Assistance event on Feb. 28, those issues and others were addressed in a discussion with Humanity United executive director Tim Isgitt, API executive director Tom Rosenstiel, and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs director of technology, media and advocacy specialization Anya Schiffrin. Schiffrin recently released a report with CIMA on nonprofit funding and editorial independence in the Global South, “Same Beds, Different Dreams? Charitable Foundations and Newsroom Independence in the Global South.”…..

The question of how to support independent media also means thinking about what organizations you’re supporting, the National Endowment for Democracy’s senior director for Asia and global programs Brian Joseph suggested. “If you go into a media environment and you’re picking media outlets, that in and of itself strikes me as the major issue,” Joseph said. “What we’re always looking at is, who is the media outlet? What is their political bias? Where are they coming from?”


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