Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nonprofit news organizations: Too legit to quit?

Nonprofit news organizations have been springing up in the wake of newspaper closings and other media outlets' staff reductions.  How should communicators be working with nonprofit news organizations--and what are the issues to consider?  Mainly, it's whether they are legit--and whether they will have to quit if their funding runs out.

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz highlights the key issues in this article, including the implications that the investigative work is tainted by the politics of the funding source (despite efforts to maintain a bright line between editorial content and funding), and the long-term viability of  groups funded by so-called "soft money" from foundation or government grants.  Legitmacy--within journalism and the wider community--also is an issue for startup nonprofit news organizations.  Nieman Journalism Lab's Jim Barnett offers this six-fold path to evaluating the legitimacy of nonprofit news organizations that communications directors can borrow to evaluate them, too.  His six markers include:

Resource/mission alignment:


— The case for philanthropy is linked to editorial independence and objectivity.

— The organization solicits small donations and/or other forms of grassroots support.

— The organization’s board of directors operates on a volunteer basis.

Transparency of mission and operations:

— The organization’s financial statements are posted online.

— The organization’s major donors are named online.

— The organization has clear accountability measures for its publications.

Barnett then applies those criteria and finds ProPublica, Human Rights Watch, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Red Cross among those who meet all six tests.  Another way to evaluate nonprofit news organizations: Check out these lessons from past winners of the Knight Foundation's News Challenge, a major funder of several nonprofit news startups, and this report from the foundation on the program's results to date.

I'm curious to learn how your communications operation is (or isn't) working with these new nonprofit news organizations--are you handling them differently than other news groups or reporters?  Are you starting a news organization at your nonprofit? Share your thoughts in the comments or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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