The connection between nonprofit funders and independent publications is always something I have had questions about. I think it’s great these foundations are willing to support independent publications, but are there really no strings attached? I have always like to hope so, because I haven’t heard any story otherwise, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Jack Schafer wrote a column for Slate addressing this exact issue.
For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose money deliberately. No matter how good the nonprofit operation is, it always ends up sustaining itself with handouts, and handouts come with conditions.
I think we would all like to think that this money doesn’t come with conditions, but that isn’t realistic. Even if it is just sharing the content with the donor when it is published is still a condition. It isn’t a condition that influences what is published, but the publications are still being held accountable to someone or something.
I don’t think this is always a bad thing because it is helpful to make sure publications are holding up their end of the bargain. If the donor expects the publication to write about social justice issues, the publication should probably be writing about social justice issues. It doesn’t mean the donor should have a say in how the social justice issues are covered and the way they are portrayed.
The fear that nonprofit donors and individuals may want to have too much say in the publication does not mean independent media should steer clear of these revenue streams. Publications like Mother Jones, Harper‘s and Christian Science Monitor have successful received nonprofit donations and remained their independence.
On campus, Buzzsaw received funding from Generation Progress, a nonprofit organization. With the funding comes some conditions on the content the magazine publishes. When we applied for the money we had to pick one of four themes that 10 percent of our content would adhere to. We picked a theme that our content already fit into, so Gen Progress was not influencing what we published because we would have already published it.