Is Nonprofit Investigative Journalism Sustainable?

Print Share on LinkedIn More

April 11, 2011; Source: American Journalism Review | One of the biggest news stories in the world of investigative journalism – aside from the WikiLeaks disclosures – has been the money that's been flowing from foundations to support what the American Journalism Review describes as "accountability reporting."

While heartening to see funders backing ventures such as ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Center for Public Integrity, it's also important to remember what Edward Wasserman, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., said several years ago: "Going to rich people periodically asking for money isn't a real business model."

That worry isn't lost on many news outlets, including those winning praise and wider audiences for their efforts. Speaking last weekend at the fifth annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium in Philadelphia, Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, said, "There's no question we can do great journalism," adding however, "I can't sit here and tell you this is sustainable."

In contrast, Richard Tofel, the general manager of ProPublica, is a little less worried than some of his peers about the future. In fact, AJR reports that Tofel told symposium attendees "flat-out that philanthropy was the key to how the nonprofits will endure." In fact, Tofel goes as far as arguing that investigative journalism – like art museums and ballet companies – should be funded as a public good. What do you think? Should worthy journalism projects receive steady support from philanthropy?—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Barbara RICK


    We have received healthy financial support over the years from individuals of means who want to make a positive social impact through exceptional storytelling in documentary film. Now it is harder and harder to make this happen. Worthy docs and journalism deserve philanthropic support!!

  • Bethann Garramon Merkle

    This is NOT a novel perspective, but here are my two cents:

    Perhaps, as long as the funders are able to maintain an objective distance from the content of the journalism. However, that remains a challenge whether the publication/effort is funded privately, publicly, philanthropically, or by advertisers and/or subscribers. Nevertheless, an authentic, credible distance must separate the funding source from the material in order for investigative journalism to maintain it’s relevance and credibility as a journalistic niche.