The growth of nonprofit news media

The traditional news media, faced with filling in every single moment with content that will draw in viewers that can be sold to advertisers, has descended into the pattern that we see, of talking heads who are selected because it is already known what they will say and can be counted on to argue with each other without adding much useful knowledge. In this drive fro phony drama and confrontations, resources for real investigative reporting that requires a lot of digging and analysis, get squeezed out as being too expensive. As Seymour Hersh says in his book Reporter, the worst words a reporter can say are “I think”. But that is the most common phrase in these shows as people speculate about things they don’t know or try to predict the future.

It is to fill this vacuum that independent non-profit news groups have emerged. Charles Lewis is a pioneer in this area. I first became aware of his work a long time ago when he became dissatisfied with the way that the TV news show 60 Minutes, where he was a producer, was headed and quit in 1989 to start the Center for Public Integrity in his home. This was one of just three such operations at that time. The CPI became a powerful voice exposing wrongdoing and Lewis later founded another organization the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, both of which are going strong today and have broken major stories by supporting real investigative reporters with the resources that enable them to work and collaborate with others.

In an essay, he writes about the growth of this sector.

According to Sue Cross, [the Institute for Nonprofit News‘s] executive director and CEO, there are approximately 270 U.S. nonprofit news sites today, 165 of which are annual dues-paying members of her organization. Some are small with a handful of staffers. A few are much bigger.

I expect nonprofit daily news sites of that kind to become more common due to the collapse of commercial newspaper and television newsroom staff levels, which have weakened news coverage capacities.

Lewis looks at the funding stream for these nonprofits. They mostly get funding from foundations and member subscriptions (I contribute to some of them) and some wealthy people have also started donating large amounts.

Why are foundations, individual philanthropists and now states pouring more money into the media? The answer is very simple. Without credible news and information, and thus a public that’s at least somewhat informed about the uses and abuses of power, a healthy democracy is not possible.

Cross, a former Associated Press executive, says donations to her organization’s member organizations began to surge at the end of 2016.

“Initially we thought that might be prompted by reaction to (President Donald) Trump’s attacks on the press,” she told me. “We now believe it is a broader and more sustained growth in nonprofit news fueled in good part by community concern over continuing losses of reporting by the traditional press.”

Lewis points to one major gap in news coverage.

In general, national nonprofit media outlets attract more funding than local news operations. This lack of support for local news is coinciding with an increase in the number of “news deserts,” regions without viable commercial or nonprofit news organizations.

This serious problem isn’t a surprise, given the disparities in terms of everything from the quality of trained medical personnel and facilities, to online internet access and per capita income between America’s rural and urban communities.

This is a problem. “All politics is local” may be an overused and overstated cliché but there is no doubt that local issues are the ones that directly affect most people and are important to the political process.

If you want to hear real news, then it is worthwhile subscribing to the newsletters of organizations like The Intercept, ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. You can also check out the member groups of the Institute for Nonprofit News to find lesser known groups that work locally in your area.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I had not realize that one could subscribe to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. I think it is going to be on my list.

  2. Holms says

    All I see there is gratuitous trolling from people that are irritated at him defensively bringing up the fact that he is gay.

  3. says

    That’s him using his gayness as a shield. There was no point at all in him bringing it up.

    His original tweet -- “Has anyone figured yet how to blame the slaughter of Gazans on Putin? Viral tweets await for those who are enterprising.” -- is a bullshit attack on people talking about the actual verifiable Russian interference in elections around the world.

    The reply? “With no due respect at fucking all, shut up, Glenn. For once.” Okay, we can have a reasonable discussion on that and civility and if he deserves that kind of language or not.

    But any high ground he may have had from that is completely lost with “Does it excite you to tell LGBT journalists to shut up?” It had NOTHING to do with the subject at hand is an an asshole reply that actively hurts people who need to deal with actual homophobic comments. It’s an actual false accusation.

    And that was just that one thing. Overall I find him pretty awful and wish he would shut up. For once.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Sorry, Tabby, I have to disagree with you.

    I have been following Greenwald long before he became famous, when he was just another blogger at a site called Unclaimed Territory, and I have found him to a consistent and principled critic of American politics. It was because of him that The Intercept began and has become such a valuable resource and his work on exposing the hypocrisies has been invaluable.

    I would trust Greenwald’s reporting on any issue more than most journalists.

  5. Holms says

    So as I said, all he did there was defensively blurt that he is gay. And was then rubbished by self-righteous trolls. Also, yes, he is (justifiably) irritated that the investigation into Trump is breathlessly reported by media as if convictions have already been made and active Trump-Russia collusion proven. There is a legitimate case to be made that many media outlets are going for breathless sensationalism on the Russia angle, at the expense of other reporting.

    His detractor in that latest twitter threat is just moronic. “Russian stooge”? Please.

  6. Holms says

    Oh and I don’t see how you can possibly conclude that Greenwald believes Russians did nothing.

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