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Photo: Folio.
Are newspapers really dead? Maybe it’s just taking a while to find new ways to support them.

As consumers of the news and traditional advertisers increasingly go online, there has been understandable handwringing about how local reporting and investigative journalism is to survive.

Sarah Scire writes for Nieman Lab about a philanthropic model.

The Guardian — through its U.S.-based philanthropic arm theguardian.org — raised $9 million between April 2020 and April 2021. Rachel White, who has been president of theguardian.org since its founding in 2016, said [donations for news organizations continued].

“New multi-year reporting projects were funded and launched, too. Humanity United, which has funded reporting on modern day slavery and labor exploitation with a pair of two-year $800,000 grants, expanded its support in 2021 with a $1.5 million grant for a series on human rights around the world. … In another example, Open Society Foundations, which has funded reporting on gender inequality in the U.S. at the Guardian in the past, reupped its contributions to fund work on climate justice and the intersection of inequality and Covid-19. Other grants have boosted the climate journalism … and made a U.S. voting rights project possible.

“With bleak-and-getting-bleaker advertising figures, we’ve seen a number of new newsrooms choose to go the nonprofit route and look to fund their journalism through individual contributions and direct support from foundations and other charitable organizations.

“Philanthropy at the Guardian is a little less straightforward. The news organization, owned by Scott Trust Limited, is not a nonprofit like. … Instead, in 2016, the Guardian formed an independent, U.S.-based charitable organization specifically to find financial support for its journalism. It’s part of a growing trend of U.S. newspapers seeking philanthropic support; the same year, the New York Times launched its own philanthropic arm. …

“White, who joined from New America Foundation, says … ‘For a place like the Guardian, we wouldn’t and shouldn’t be seeking the same kind of funding that nonprofit newsrooms split, because we have lots of different revenue streams that support the news organization. [We] really needed to define why and how we would seek philanthropic support.’

“The ‘how’ was relatively straightforward; setting up a 501(c)(3) made it easier for more nonprofits to contribute. The ‘why,’ White says, has been driven entirely by the newsroom.

“ ‘We’re fierce — and always will be — about editorial independence,’ she said. ‘Every one of the ideas that we take to philanthropy comes first from senior editors at the Guardian.’ …

“Every project funded through theguardian.org has a prominently placed badge noting the institution(s) that made the work possible. A gene editing documentary was funded by the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust, for example, while articles in a series on the threats facing public lands in the United States and Canada discloses its support from the Society of Environmental Journalists. The full list of more than 40 grant-supported projects appears on theguardian.org. …

“White is quick to point out that philanthropy is not the primary way the Guardian supports its journalism. Annual revenue for the Guardian was £223.5 million (USD $308 million) in 2020, including digital-driven revenue — now making up 56% of all revenue — at £125.9 million. In contrast, theguardian.org has reliably contributed between $5.1 million and $5.4 million per year. … The philanthropic arm focuses on reporting projects that might be difficult to justify funding while facing budget shortfalls. …

“The organizations and individuals that White works with are, unsurprisingly, very interested in the impact of the journalism they fund. The Guardian has developed a suite of tools and procedures to try and measure who their journalism is reaching — and what effect it has. …

“Looking ahead, White says the newsroom is looking at finding funding for topics like ‘the future of the American worker’ and ‘the long tail of inequality and poverty’ post-pandemic. …

“Toward the end of our conversation, I asked White — who has been working to secure philanthropic support for journalism for nearly six years now — what has surprised her most in her role.

“ ‘I really did believe in 2016 … that everyone would immediately see the role of journalism and philanthropy would rise triumphantly to the challenge and that there would be this outpouring of support. While the market has expanded and this commitment to the idea of supporting journalism has grown, it certainly hasn’t grown at the pace of the crisis for journalism. …

“ ‘I just continue to hope that the philanthropic market will expand to meet the needs of news organizations, because they’re substantial.’ ”

More at Nieman Lab, here.

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