December 7, 2016; New York Times
Almost a month after the election, nonprofit journalism sites are still experiencing a higher than usual level of giving from donors. Some media outlets known for investigative reporting have seen some striking increases. For instance, the Center for Public Integrity in Washington and the related International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (of Panama Papers fame) have seen a 70 percent increase in donations over the same period last year. At ProPublica, donations since the election have totaled $750,000 compared to the $500,000 it received through all of 2015. The Marshall Project, which focuses more narrowly on the American criminal justice system, has seen an increase post-election of a more modest 20 percent.
Richard Tofel of ProPublica attributes the increases to people’s need to take action on what they believe may be at risk. “Of course, people’s reasons differ, but I think in general a lot of people have felt the need since the election to take some civic action…One of the forms that can take is contributing money to places you think can make a difference in our civic life.”
That last point is important. If people know they will be required to be active, they need good journalism to inform them.
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The investment isn’t just in nonprofit journalism. The New York Times has seen a net increase of approximately 132,000 paid subscriptions for its print and digital offerings. Still, for the nonprofit newsrooms that have continued to pick up the too-often neglected and expensive work of investigative and accountability journalism, albeit often on a shoestring, this time will hopefully constitute an opportunity for their talent and message to be supported by those who appreciate their addressing the issues people feel may be most at risk under the new administration.
With the increase in donations, ProPublica has developed a new beat covering hate crimes and the activities of white supremacist groups. Tofel said they hope to take on other concerns made urgent by the election, such as trade and immigration.
John Dunbar, the CEO of the Center for Public Integrity says that in his mind the donations are a recognition that watchdog journalism will be increasingly important given Trump’s vows to deregulate.
“Deregulation sounds boring, but if that means we are going to have fewer cops on the beat when it comes to, for example, financial protection, those are areas we are going to look at very closely…People are expecting us to step up.”—Ruth McCambridge