March 24, 2010; Nieman Journalism Lab | As a nonprofit publication itself, the Nonprofit Quarterly keeps a close eye on the burgeoning nonprofit presence in American journalism. Some former Los Angeles Times reporters have established a new nonprofit investigative news outlet called FairWarning, devoted to specific news beats—“consumer-driven issues of health, safety, and corporate conduct.”
Like many of the new nonprofit journalism operations, FairWarning is small—an editor and assistant editor assisted by a few part-time journalism students. Several foundations are among the early supporters of this effort, including the Public Welfare Foundation (DC), the Renaissance Foundation (OR), the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation (OK), and, as the lead funder, the Charles Evans Foundation (NY).
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FairWarning starts with a large dollop of credibility in our book due to the presence of Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, on its board of directors. FairWarning’s long-term business model, however, is unclear to us. The Web site notes that FairWarning plans to distribute and apparently sell its stories to other media outlets and in doing so generate a “small revenue stream.”
But that “positive cash flow” looks like it will need a lot of charitable and philanthropic contributions to make this operation a go. Will philanthropy keep giving annually to provide the support this kind of operation needs? Or is what’s really needed more significant philanthropic investment in the form of capitalizing an endowment for entities like FairWarning and others, else they falter on the shoals of the annual foundation fundraising process?—Rick Cohen