• Article

    20 plus reasons why investing in journalism and media creates lasting change

    May 18, 2011 by Eric Newton

    Over time, we’ve noticed a growing myth about media grant making – that the outcomes aren’t quantifiable, that it doesn’t produce a tangible, measurable impact.

    In a new report, the International Center for Journalists offers 20 plus reasons to the contrary. That’s how many changes to government policies were brought to bear by the work of fellows. For example, in

    • Kenya, a series on shoddy care in public hospitals resulted in $7.5 million to improve care;
    • Indonesia, a series on medical waste prompted the government to order hospitals to build their own wastewater treatment facilities; and in
    • Peru, after crimes by unlicensed cab drivers are exposed, taxis were required to show official identification

    How did 19 fellows accomplish so much in such a short time? ICFJ made major changes to its flagship program, the Knight International Journalism Fellows. The center extended the fellowships to at least a year, recruited international fellows and targeted developing countries where the opportunity for impact was greatest.

    Along the way, we also made some important discoveries about what works:

    • Strong journalism skills are not enough to ensure a fellow’s success. The most effective fellows are entrepreneurs with solidmanagement skills needed to lead complex projects in difficult environments.
    • High-impact projects need a strong commitment from local partners. We need to get buy-in, not just from top management at our partner organizations, but also from those working most closely with the fellow. By putting their own resources into the project, local partners have a stake in its success.
    • Projects are more likely to be successful in stable countries with a relatively high level of media freedom.
    • Projects focusing on digital journalism are more likely to produce lasting impact. Mobile phones reach many more people in developing countries than other media. Authoritarian regimes tend to regulate traditional media more than the Internet.
    • Fellows have greater success the longer they are in the field. But we ask only the strongest fellows to extend.
    • Language fluency is essential for success. Previous experience working in a country is not.
    • Innovations developed by Knight fellows can be replicated in other ICFJ programs.

    By sharing this report, we hope that others in the field can learn from it – and that they too will share their best practices and lessons learned.

    Eric Newton

    Senior Adviser to the President, Knight Foundation

    and Joyce Barnathan

    president, ICFJ

  • Article

    Funding in media and journalism: A discussion on opportunities and challenges

    April 12, 2011 by Eric Newton

    With 15,000 journalism jobs cut in recent years, hurting the in-depth local news that helps sustain our democracy, more funders are making journalism and media grants.  And many of them attended a Monday morning session on the topic at the Council on Foundations conference in Philadelphia for a robust discussion on the opportunities and challenges of media grant making.

    The session, “Informed and Engaged Communities through Journalism and Media Grant Making,” was designed to provoke questions from the foundations thinking about making such work and answers from the foundations making media grants. Here’s a sample of the conversation:

    • How does media grant making fit into overall foundation strategy? Media funding can help reach any strategic goal. Good urban planning is important to The William Penn Foundation, so it funds an informative site called Plan Philly; another funder interested in homelessness supports coverage of the topic area on a Connecticut news site.
    • How do you go about producing content that is relevant to your audience? Stay close to your audience, said Knight Foundation’s Paula Ellis. They will guide you so that you don’t overbuild a site that solves a problem nobody has.
    • How do you sustain news sites once foundation funding ends? Diversify funding sources, between ad sales and public radio type funding models and others. Also, make sure the people who run the site have business sense, and that slices of the budget are spent on marketing and other business areas. Said one audience member:  We had two experiences with fine journalists, one of them after three years barely knows he has to hire someone to work on sustainability. In the other case the person transformed himself into a fabulous entrepreneur. You have to build it in to how you think about the project.
    • How do you go about making partnerships with traditional media: The California Endowment, which promotes community health, works with local newspapers to create and fund community health beats. Mary Lou Fulton said while the Endowment respects journalists’ independence, they do negotiate the scope of coverage so that it goes far beyond the typical coverage of health care reform, weight loss and yoga.

    Read through the entire conversation on the session’s liveblog here.

    For more tips on funding in this area, download the booklet “Journalism and Media Grant Making, Five Things You Need to Know, Five Ways to Get Started.”

  • Article

    Economics of investigative reporting

    April 21, 2011 by Eric Newton

    Ken Doctor, who writes well about Newsonomics, has taken apart the economics of a single investigative story with this report on the Nieman Lab site.  He features a strong California Watch story about how state regulators have routinely failed to enforce earthquake safety laws for public schools, "allowing children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction." KnightBlog has written about this before because Knight Foundation gave a $1.32 million grant to the organization behind the stories as part of our Investigative Reporting Initiative.

    Ken asked me why Knight Foundation supports investigative reporting. Here's what I said:

    Eric Newton"No community can clean up a toxic dump, or remove a corrupt official, or fix dangerous schools, or right any other kind of wrong, if it doesn’t first know about it. Investigative reporting tells us what we need to know -- not what we want to hear -- what we need to know -- what good citizens need to run their communities and their lives. But today we seem to be in a weird kind of investigative reporting drought. Weird because the overall volume of news and information is exploding – but traditional news outlets, in their mad scramble to cope with the digital age, are producing less local accountability journalism.

    "Without a lot of fanfare, Knight Foundation has been making investments in investigative reporting grant. Brant Houston’s web site explains some of them. We are interested in the development of new economic models for investigative reporting on digital platforms.  Recent national support has gone to the Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity. We’ve also supported the Sunlight Foundation and Sunshine Week, because you need freedom of information to investigate.

    "We have funded university-based models at Boston University and through News 21 to explore how its 12-campus investigative reporting project might adopt a self-sustaining model. USC, the University of California at Berkeley, Nebraska, Arizona State, Missouri, Northwestern, Maryland, Syracuse, University of Texas, the University of North Carolina, Columbia and Harvard. In the past we’ve made two endowment grants that we count as part of our Investigative Reporting Initiative.  The training endowment we gave to the Investigative Reporters and Editors and we endowed a Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Journalism at the University of Illinois.

    "We believe non-profit investigative reporting is gaining momentum across the country. Its practioners are winning top journalism awards and more than that they are creating major social changes worth many times the cost of these reports. The key to the sustainability of these enterprises is that they develop multiple revenue streams to augment their launch support from foundations. Several of them are making major strides in that direction. Especially important is that the local projects win local support. It’s a fact of life that local news must have local support, and it’s heartening to see community foundations coming into this field as part of the Knight Community Information Challenge."

    Ken then asked "a big question," which was whether California Watch can expect continued foundation support: "There really isn’t a foundation community that thinks with a common brain (same situation as in the news community). Each foundation makes its own decisions using different criteria. Some foundations see their role as launching new things and letting nature take its course. Other see their role as helping orgs develop business-savvy and capacity for sustainability. Others want to fund particular content channels. Others only want to fund high-impact content. Others want to fund innovative new forms of engagement. How California Watch does with each of the different types will depend on how it has done so far on the different issues they care about: web traffic, community engagement, social impact, particular beats or topics, fundraising from the community at large. California Watch is supposed to do a report to the news community explaining how it is doing and that will be helpful information to all the foundations following them."

    Eric Newton is senior adviser to the president.

  • Article

    How much "Comfort News" is in your information diet?

    August 14, 2011 by Eric Newton

    Today's Miami Herald has a piece I wrote on the dangers of "Comfort News."

    Here's how it starts:

    "We the people are fat. So much so medical experts have declared an epidemic and declared costs to this nation of untold billions. But there’s an even bigger epidemic out there, less obvious but no less dangerous. Just as we consume comfort food, our high-calorie midnight ice creams, we are, more and more, consuming 'comfort news.' "

    Comfort News is politics, entertainment or other kinds of  news that is more opinion than fact. It tastes great but isn't really that good for you -- or for society. 

    The piece is based on a speech I gave earlier this year at the University of Nebraska.

    Read the full article here.

    (Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, writes and speaks on journalism and media issues.) 

  • Article

    Looking at the Economist series on the future of media

    August 3, 2011 by Eric Newton

    Looking at the Economist series on the future of media

    When the fellow pictured here on the right, dean Gary Kebbel, ema  em   iled me about the Economist series on the news industry, I asked him what he thought of it. This is our usual sequence of doing things. Gary, now dean of the University of Nebraska college of journalism and mass communications, was the journalism program director at Knight Foundation as we started the media innovation initiative (now a regular part of our work). I was VP of Journalism, and got in the habit of hearing him out. True to form, he replied with more than a tweet. So below is what a new American journalism dean says in reaction to this major series. My comments follow, and I’ll my own review of the series in a future post.

    Writes Gary Kebbel: For its readers who are asking what's going on with online media, the Economist articles are useful. I think the main benefit of the package is to point out that we've been here before - before 1833, that is. Media did well before and after the rise of mass media. Journalism used to be more local. It used to seek citizen contributions. (I still remember reading one of the newspapers hung in the National Press Club that asks readers to come to the riverboat as it pulls in to their city and tell their stories to the reporter on board.)  

    (Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, writes and speaks on journalism and media issues.)  


  • Article

    The future of news? Four different sources weigh in

    August 8, 2011 by Eric Newton

    The future of news? Four different sources weigh in

    It is no secret that the news industry is struggling in the midst of our digital revolution.  But what exactly is happening? How are these changes affecting our communities? And what should be done to make sure that people are getting the information they need? This summer, four different reports that address these questions have been released (a fifth, by the New America Foundation, will be out shortly).  These reports come from different sources—a British weekly news magazine, the U.S. government, an educational institution, and a non-profit—so they bring different perspectives and ideas to the table. But many themes, like the need for innovation and collaboration, recur. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I will discuss the content of these reports, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

    The Economist series, published July 7, includes social media, how media is faring in different countries, WikiLeaks and other media “newcomers,” among other articles. One of the highlights of the series comes from an article about impartiality, where, in a show of refreshing forthrightness, the Economist describes Fox News as “offer[ing] distinctively right-wing opinion and commentary,” and says that “MSNBC…has lately been positioning itself to appeal to a left-wing crowd.” Maybe because the Economist is a British magazine, it seems to be more straightforward about news slant than many American journalists. Overall, the Economist piece provides pretty thorough coverage of the problems facing modern media, but is short on solutions.  Their coverage of “philanthrojournalism,” is particularly feeble: a suggestion is put forth that foundations should fully endow non-profit journalism, which a lot of foundation leaders worry would actually undermine the connection between the news organization and the community that it serves (for more on this topic, see this blog post about the four “C”s of community media).


  • Article

    In “Reinventing Journalism”, Robert Rosenthal writes personal account of his career

    October 5, 2011 by Eric Newton


    This week, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) is releasing “Reinventing Journalism,” Executive Director Robert Rosenthal’s personal account of joining CIR and launching California Watch, its statewide investigative team.

    As he says in the opening paragraph, Robert had no idea what he was getting into when he walked into CIR in 2008. “Reinventing Journalism” is his personal account of finding his way: from working as a copyboy to reporting assignments around the world, to being in the ring for the collapse of the traditional media business model, to seizing the opportunity to create a new kind of journalism organization, to his own evolution from journalist to what he calls “salesman/evangelical entrepreneur.”

    Rosenthal also writes about the launch of California Watch – how the distribution and impact of its first stories exceeded his wildest expectations – and addresses the search for sustainability, looking forward to the future of investigative reporting and the non-profit model. 

    A free copy of "Reinventing Journalism" can be downloaded to your digital reading device through Project GutenbergIt will be available soon at iTunes and the Google eBookstore.

    As part of "Reinventing Journalism", Rosenthal also identified "10 lessons learned" about his time at Center for Investigative Reporting

    We hope this report, written at Knight Foundation’s request, will help other nonprofit reporting ventures, and shed light on where the rapidly changing landscape of journalism and investigative reporting might be headed. 

  • Article

    Would nutrition labels work for news?

    October 11, 2011 by Eric Newton

    Matt Stempeck, research assistant at the MIT Center for Civic Media, recently asked the question: “What If We Had a Nutrition Label For News”?

    His call for feedback prompted a response from Eric Newton, senior advisor to the president at Knight Foundation, who equates the fundamental nutritional elements of food directly to their counterparts in news.

    Newton wrote:

    Congratulations for taking on this fantastic topic. Anyone who can break down and communicate the nutritional value of news will be an American hero.

    As you note, the idea of a food label for news has been kicking around for a long time. I first started talking about it nearly 15 years ago with some other folks at the Newseum in various programs we had in the broadcast studios there. I got some bits on the record five years ago in the book Mega Media, and most recently I wrote “Junk-food news turning us into fat-heads” in the Miami Herald.

    We've known for ages that words are food for the mind. The devil is in the details. Every previous effort I've seen has failed to properly unwind the metaphor. Listing the various failures may not be as helpful as talking aspirationally about the real goal.

    What we really need is a food label not so much on each news outlet but on each news story. (ie, Marissa Mayer's point at Google about the new unit of organization of news being the story, not the outlet).

  • Article

    More noteworthy journalism and media books by Knight partners

    March 1, 2012 by Eric Newton

    More noteworthy journalism and media books by Knight partners


    Clay Johnson argues for infoveganism at the Center for Civic Media. Photo Credit: Flickr user J. Nathan Matias.

    Noteworthy journalism and media books by Knight partners keep coming. These two made me want to flash back to two previous blogs:

    Killing the MessengerThomas Peele of the Bay Area News Group has written a story that cries out for a movie deal. It’s about “radical faith, racism’s backlash and the assassination of a journalist.”  In vivid detail, Killing the Messenger gives you the big picture around the death of Chauncey Bailey, the Oakland Post editor shotgunned in 2007 on a street corner for investigating a troubled local business called Your Muslim Bakery. Bailey was the first journalist murdered for trying to do journalism in this country since Don Bolles was killed in 1976 by a car bomb for exposing mafia ties to Arizona land deals.

    Peele tells the history of Black Muslims, leading you to Oakland where the movement became a cover for a violent cult run by Yusuf Bey, who beat and raped dozens of women he claimed were his wives and fathered more than 40 children.  Bey’s 21-year-old son, Yusuf Bey IV, took over the bakery after his father’s death. It was Bey IV who was convicted of masterminding the Bailey murder. Bey IV and an accomplice are looking at life without parole. The trigger man, who confessed, got 25 years.

    Knight Foundation’s role was to grant the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education $125,000 to create the Chauncey Bailey project – so nonprofit, commercial and student journalists from all media could investigate the murder. Thomas Peele was an important member of that project.

    Did the project matter? Said District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley: “I would especially like to recognize and acknowledge the Chauncey Bailey Project (which) worked diligently and tirelessly to ensure that the defendants responsible for these senseless murders were brought to justice."  A public official speaks highly of journalists! Even so, you won’t find those words in Peele’s book. Like many good investigative reporters, he does not like to put himself into the story. I spoke about this issue at last year’s investigative reporting convention. My question: If investigative journalists don’t explain their impact, who will?

  • Article

    More recipes for success of nonprofit news ventures

    March 14, 2012 by Eric Newton

    More recipes for success of nonprofit news ventures



    The latest cookbook for nonprofit news ventures comes today from the Investigative News Networksupported by Knight, is an eclectic mix of big, small, old, new, national, local, digital, print, neutral and progressive nonprofit news organizations. As you might expect, its recipes for success are as varied as sushi and Boston baked beans.

    The white paper, Audience Development and Distribution Strategies, was written by digital news expert Elizabeth Osder. It is similar to our earlier reports on nonprofit news success, but also offers new advice, excellent context and fresh views from the nonprofit news leaders themselves.

    Its thrust:  the story is not the only thing that matters in news. Explains Margie Freigvogel, editor of the St. Louis Beacon: “We started with a passion for journalism coming out of a newspaper background and we found ourselves running a business and technology enterprise.” The Beacon started in 2008 to create “a better St. Louis powered by journalism” and is still going strong.

    These folks are, in my mind, heroes. Many started their new digital news ventures just in the past five years, as print newspapers have been shrinking and a lack of creative change in public broadcasting has so far failed to fill the gap. These new news leaders really care about informed and engaged communities.  Suddenly, through their own web sites and their traditional media partners, they are reaching many millions of people. Someone should add up that number: It’s big.

  • Article

    An easy way to learn about the State of the News Media 2012

    March 23, 2012 by Eric Newton

    An easy way to learn about the State of the News Media 2012

    Two Knight partners are coming together in a webinar next week designed to get everyone on the same page with the State of the News Media 2012. It’s the latest Webinar from Poynter's NewsU, and features Tom Rosenstiel, who founded and directs the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.


    Tom Rosenstiel

    The one-hour webinar, costing $10.95 and set for 2 p.m. EST Wednesday March 28, will cover journalism and the mobile market, changing audience habits and local TV news, newspaper pay models, Facebook’s impact on news, nonprofit news sites and more. You can sign up for State of the News Media 2012.

    Knight investments co-founded and then helped expand NewsU as it has grown into the nation’s premiere online journalism training site, with more than 210,000 registered users.

  • Article

    Why we need new models for arts journalism

    April 19, 2012 by Eric Newton

    Why we need new models for arts journalism

    Today, Knight Foundation and the NEA announced the winners of its Community Arts Journalism Challenge. Here, Knight's Eric Newton gives some insight into why both organizations decided to fund innovations in arts coverage and criticism.

    Update: Two of the winning projects, CriticCar Detroit and the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, were recently profiled in The Huffington Post and The Charlotte Observer, respectively.

    When Knight Foundation first started working with the National Endowment of the Arts on the issue of arts journalism, we asked four questions: Is arts journalism in trouble? Does it matter? Can anything be done to help? How can we - the Knight Foundation, the nation’s leading private funder of journalism innovation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s leading advocate for the arts – improve the situation. Let’s look at the questions and answers:

    1.    Is arts journalism in trouble? 

    Nationally, arts journalism is doing well. Locally, it is not. 

    Nationally, the medium of film is an example of the positive post-internet trend. Even as film critics shrink in traditional media, the victims of the new economics of the digital age, they are blooming in cyberspace. Typical was famed film critic Roger Ebert reporting in his January 2011 Wall Street Journal article, “Film Criticism is Dying? Not Online.”: “The Web and HTML have been a godsend for film criticism. The best single film criticism site is arguably davidbordwell.net, featuring the Good Doctor Bordwell and his wife Kristin Thompson. Their names are known from their textbooks, studied in every film school in the world. But they are not users of the obscurantist gobbledygook employed by academics who, frankly, cannot really write. They communicate in prose as clear as running water.”

  • Article

    How the Challenge Fund for Journalism helped nonprofits develop better business practices

    June 5, 2012 by Eric Newton


    Photo Credit Flickr User Steve Bowbrick

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about how journalism funders this past decade were working together more often. Here’s an example of that. During the past seven years, we teamed up to help journalism nonprofits develop better business practices in a project called the Challenge Fund for Journalism.

    recent study of the Challenge Fund for Journalism showed how the project helped 53 journalism nonprofits, both professional organizations and media outlets.  The fund’s partners were Ford, which created the project, as well as KnightMcCormick, and Ethics and Excellence in Journalism. The management consulting firm TCC Group coordinated the project.

    Some organizations, usually the smaller ones, got fundraising and administrative training only. Others got training as well as a grant that they could collect only if they could raise twice as much themselves. That’s like giving away a fish if someone can catch at least two more on their own. Hence, the name of the report on the project: Learning To Fish.  As we’ve said before, the largest amount of philanthropic money given away each year in the United States is donated not by foundations but by individuals. The challenge fund helped nonprofit journalism groups learn to fish where the most of the fish really live.