Ideological Biases in Nonprofit News Sites

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July 18, 2011; Source: Forbes (Associated Press) | A strong independent press is a keystone of a strong democracy but in recent years Journalism has been seeking a new business model to fit the times. One of the options is to go nonprofit but now the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has examined 46 national and state nonprofit news websites — and found that 56 percent of them were “ideologically based.”

“Ideological” is one of those twenty-five-cent words that conjures up different definitions for people, so one might expect that readers would debate exactly how ideological (or tied to which specific ideologies) these sites might be. Pew contrasted the ideological sites with those maintaining “a more balanced political perspective,” which Pew found tend to “have multiple funders, more transparency, and more content” in contrast to the ideological sites which were typically “funded mostly or entirely by one parent organization.”  The ideological sites were, according to Pew, less than fully forthcoming about their single-source funding. 

The most ideologically liberal sites were nine allied to the American Independent News Network, largely funded by the Open Society Foundations created by George Soros. The most ideologically conservative were 12 “watchdog” sites funded by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, created by the libertarian Sam Adams Alliance.  Among foundation funders, both the Sam Adams Alliance and the Franklin Center receive grant support from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which funds many conservative think tanks and causes. 

The head of the American Independent News Network defended the liberal bent of his news sites, telling the Associated Press, “We think part of doing great journalism includes having a perspective on what is right and what is wrong . . . When we do the stories, we endeavor to do them fairly and do them well.”

News sites that are deemed by liberals as too conservative and by conservatives as too liberal often see themselves as much fairer in their coverage of the news than their critics perceive. With the advent of many nonprofit news sites existing on the Internet and dependent on major philanthropic funding rather than selling ads, the trends toward more ideologically tinted coverage is understandable. 

Whatever one thinks of the left or the right, however, neither should be given a pass allowing them to do away with factual information or to rely on vituperative insults, which is so often the character of the news sites of the political extremes. If a news site is dedicated to reporting the news as opposed to providing commentary on the news, notwithstanding political bents, good journalism must be maintained.—Rick Cohen