What About the Ford Foundation Funding the LA Times?

One more thing from that recent Inside Philanthropy article about news coverage and foundation support to consider is the claim that there’s a double standard when it comes to public attention for media outlets receiving private foundation dollars depending on whether the money comes from a progressive foundation or not.

In What’s Up With That Big Grant to the Atlantic Monthly From the Walton Family Foundation?, David Callahan describes it so:

We’ve also noted a double standard at work in scrutinizing this funding, and how some large foundation grants to media outfits attract very little scrutiny, even though they should—for example, the generous support to public radio by two foundations with a progressive agenda, Ford and Robert Wood Johnson, for coverage of specific issues, such as healthcare and inequality. If the Koch brothers made similar grants to media outlets, you can bet there’d be a firestorm.

It’s an interesting observation, especially when it comes to progressive foundation support for issues related to education. For example, Callahan notes that the Ford Foundation has given “over $1.5 million to the Los Angeles Times in recent years.”

At the time the grant was announced three years ago, the rollout was covered as an unusual collaboration between a nonprofit foundation and a for-profit media outlet. See the LA Times story here and a post from CJR here and Poynter here. The grants funding five reporter positions were focused on covering immigrant communities and inequality, among other things.

The Ford funding is disclosed at least some of the time (see here for an example) and isn’t specifically given for education coverage. However I know from my work writing about a Los Angeles high school and editing LA School Report that there were concerns expressed privately about the quality and balance of the coverage that was being provided. And — as with the RWJ funding given to NPR and PBS for health coverage — the issue seems to have received little attention by observers and the public.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.