Does Philanthropic Support Affect Coverage Differently Than Other Funding Methods?

The good folks at Inside Philanthropy wrote recently about the growth of foundation-funded education journalism. The piece (More Funding Is Flowing for Education Journalism. Is That Okay?) asks some good questions and provides some basic information – but doesn’t really get at the underlying question of if or how philanthropic funding affects coverage.

The overall tone of the post is curious if a bit skeptical. For example: “Nowhere is the influence of private money over public life more pronounced than in K-12 education and yet, as it turns out, the specialized media most likely to raise questions about the trend are themselves supported by foundations.”

Hmm. Well.  It’s no surprise that foundation funding is everywhere in education journalism — EdWeek, Slate, The Seventy Four, Chalkbeat, Hechinger Report, and EWA to name a few outlets — and that coverage of specific topics is often fueled by funder priorities (such as parent empowerment, or additional learning time) rather than purely editorial decisions.

So let’s stipulate that funders can influence what gets covered by their grants — within limits — and that foundation dollars are different in some ways from other ways that journalism has been funded in the past. 

What interests me more – and isn’t addressed in Inside Philanthropy’s post — is how (if at all) private funding influences media coverage differently than other influences such as commercial advertisers, subscribers, or reporters’ individual beliefs? I’m also curious what impact if any a mix of diverse funders has on newsroom coverage (as opposed to funding from a single kind of funder)? Does it tend to moderate coverage, or push it to extremes? 

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.