The Challenges of Foundation-Funded Journalism for Journalists and Readers

It seems sometimes as if there are people who do things (write EA’s, produce goods and services) (doers) and people who review what doers do. Those include academics, judges, reporters and so on. The Smokey Wire is full of those stories.  I think it’s also important for people familiar with doing to review what academics, judges, and reporters do in their work and how they do it- especially when it concerns topics we know about.   To do that, we need to look at their own literature and try to understand how they perceive things and how their professional systems operate.  One example is  “Practice of Science Friday” and the sociology of science.

Thanks to Matthew for posting this Propublica OPB Oregonian piece on timber companies in southwestern Oregon.  I’ve got some points to make about the piece, but I’ve written one of the reporters  to get more information before I dive in.  I was interested in the fact that it was funded by Propublica and the timing was interesting, since apparently the issue of reduction of severance taxes has been around for a while.

This came across today from E&E news  “A Republican who made his name fighting a suspected terrorist in France thinks he can unseat longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio in southwest Oregon by channeling decades of rural anger over the decline of the timber industry.”

So I became curious about Propublica and its funders, and wondered what kind of stories they would fund and whether they might be biased in a certain way. Of course, we are all biased, and even the bias watchers themselves are biased. For example two bias sites have mildly different views of Propublica.  Media Bias/Fact Check and Influence Watch both indicate that it is left-leaning, though Media Bias says left-center.  What’s a reader to do? First, buy a subscription to your local paper!

We all know that journalism has had difficulties, and Covid has made them worse.  But it is troubling that the replacement for local people reporting on topics of interest may funding if their is a particular point of view imbedded in the selection and framing of the story. It might lead to seeing the country as more divided than it really is, and possibly lead to even more division.  Simply because we don’t get different points of view examined fairly, so it’s easier to see people who disagree as stupid, malevolent and so on.  But apparently that is only one of the issues around foundation funding and journalism that journalism scholars have found.

I did a very brief review of some literature and came up with these.

How Foundation Funding Changes the Way Journalism Gets Done

and this interesting one from scholars in the UK.

In summary, we argue that foundation funding shapes what we understand journalism to be. This is important because it suggests that foundations are changing the role that journalists play in democracy. In the case of non-profit international news, foundations direct journalism (both intentionally and unintentionally) towards outcome-oriented, explanatory journalism in a small number of niche subject areas. We do not make a normative claim about whether these changes are “good” or “bad” for journalism. However, we are concerned that such important decisions about journalism – a vital institution to democracy – are being made by a small number of generally un-transparent organisations, controlled by powerful individuals, which are rarely scrutinised or held accountable by any larger or democratic body.

Outcome-oriented sounds like “successful in changing people’s views.”  Which, in my view, is not exactly the same goal as “explaining clearly to people what’s going on.”

The last sentence particularly resonated with me. It’s good to have watchdogs, but what if no one’s watching the watchdogs?

15 thoughts on “The Challenges of Foundation-Funded Journalism for Journalists and Readers”

  1. Sure, Sharon, don’t address the actual substance of this very in-depth piece from Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Oregonian and Propublica…just scurry around talking about funding and try your best to (predictably) discredit this piece of investigative journalism.

    By the way, you seem to make it seem like Rob Davis with the Oregonian isn’t a “local.” Not sure what’s up with that. Also, Davis is an award-winning journalist. In fact, he won an award for his reporting on “Polluted by Money: How corporate cash corrupted one of the greenest states in America.”

    Anyway, Sharon, I look forward to your hard-hitting news piece on who is funding Fox News, who is funding the Sinclair Broadcast Group and please don’t forget to look deeply into the Koch Foundation’s massive digital media network. Happy digging!

    • I’m going to do that but I wanted to get a copy of their table where they compare severance tax reductions to federal payment reductions by county. I’m sure Rob Davis is a great journalist! I like how they dug up all those numbers- my brain fried after starting on this history of timber taxes in Oregon,, so it was a valiant effort to try to explain it in a news story . My point being that there are lots of ways to tell a story. An article funded by Propublica, or Fox News may tend to look at things a certain way. What we have the ability to do in our own forest world is to take the numbers that people calculated, question if they are biased in the way they and Headwaters calculated them (I’m not qualified to do that, but others are) and/or given those figures and using our own knowledge and experience to look at them in different ways.

      As to corruption, politicians in Colorado support the wind, solar, ski and marijuana industries. I’m sure they take donations. Does that make them corrupt? Or taking donations from TWS and the Sierra Club? Or is corruption when they take money from “bad” industries or engage in pro-industry polices that are more extreme than some people would prefer? What if the politicians promote anti-industry policies that are more extreme than some people prefer? Does California promote the entertainment and wine industries? Does Washington promote aerospace? Does Vermont promote dairy?

      • For whatever it’s worth, since Sharon brought up Media Bias/Fact Check, that site does like Propublica as “left-center.” It also rates Propublica’s “factual reporting” as “high.”

        Meanwhile, Media Bias/Fact Check says the Oregonian (who also co-wrote the story titled Big Money Bought the Forests. Small Logging Communities Are Paying the Price) has a “right-center bias.”

        Again, it’s clear to me as a longtime contributor and longtime reader of this blog that Sharon wants to pick on media funding in this instance because she didn’t care for the article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Oregonian and Propublica. I can’t recall Sharon ever having any problem with “corporate funded journalism” or any problem at all with “Koch Foundation funded journalism.” Maybe someday we can focus on the actual substance of very in-depth pieces of investigative journalism regarding the timber industry Then again, maybe not.

        • You are perfectly welcome to point out any stories anyone posts that are Koch Foundation-funded or corporate-funded. It can be important to understand the bias of the authors. At the same time, I think it’s important to find reporters that are fair and trying to be unbiased and give them a shout out.

  2. Pretty topical considering the struggle sessions and resultant confessions and purges over the last week in many newsrooms.

  3. Also, for whatever it’s worth, while Sharon said this: “But it is troubling that the replacement for local people reporting on topics of interest may funding if their is a particular point of view imbedded in the selection and framing of the story.”

    The main reporter for the OPB, Oregonian and Propublica story was Tony Schick, a guy who was born and raised in Oregon.

    • I think we can all think of parts of our states that have different perspectives and worldviews from the metro areas. Port Orford is not John Day, and so on. I realize I didn’t edit that sentence correctly. So without sounding like an old fogy, I think a robust local journalism, that is reporters who dwell in the area (within two hours?) of the area they are writing about and funded to do what local people are interested in, may well lead to different kinds of stories than those financially supported by national or international NGO’s with intentions that may be honorable, but are unknown. You can look at Propublica’s board and many folks with successful corporate lives, but it doesn’t appear that any have worked with natural resources or agriculture, nor live currently outside of metro areas (except perhaps for one Mainer). The Board does not “look like us” if “us” is the folks of the US. Which is not a problem for most activities that NGOs want to pursue. But if you believe that “as accurate and fair as possible” journalism is key to democracy then I would argue that it’s almost impossible to interpolate between two biased sources. Sure for TSW topics we can figure both sides out ourselves, but not for most other things.

  4. According to ProPublica’s Ken Ward, Jr, in a Twitter post about “Big Money Bought the Forests. Small Logging Communities Are Paying the Price:”

    “One of the most important things about @propublica’s Local Reporting Network is how it’s been revealing local stories around the country that are so similar … and are really national stories.”

    Here are some examples that Ward also tweeted out:

    The Coal Industry Extracted a Steep Price From West Virginia. Now Natural Gas Is Leading the State Down the Same Path.

    “It’s déjà vu for the people who sat here 130 years ago and gave away our coal wealth to big out-of-state companies,” one state senator said. “That’s what we’re about to do again.”


    I’ve Investigated Industrial Pollution for 35 Years. We’re Going Backwards.

    Decades ago, Mark Schleifstein and his colleagues exposed environmental threats coming out of industrial plants all along the Louisiana section of the Mississippi River. A lot of those plants never went away, and even more are moving in.

    • Reasonable people could disagree that a story about West Virginia coal, or Louisiana industrial plants is “really” a national story. In that sense, I suppose everything is a “national story.” Open space torn up by housing development, marijuana industry using surprisingly large amounts of non-renewable energy, tourism industry placing environmental impacts on land and waters, and so on. The problem with that is that the details and the solutions (and the people who work on them) tend to get lost in nationalizing problems and solutions. Many people think that their state legislatures, for example, are more productive than Congress. My point is that nationalizing things is (1) a choice and (2) less likely to lead to desirable solutions.

  5. Thank goodness the local reporters at the Seattle Times were able to call BS on Fox News’ clear violations of ethical standards for a news organization. I wonder who owns Fox News? Who funds Fox News? What agenda does Fox News have? What major corporations are the biggest advertisers on Fox News?

    Fox News runs digitally altered images in coverage of Seattle’s protests, Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

    Fox News published digitally altered and misleading photos on stories about Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in what photojournalism experts called a clear violation of ethical standards for news organizations.

    As part of a package of stories Friday about the zone, where demonstrators have taken over several city blocks on Capitol Hill after Seattle police abandoned the East Precinct, Fox’s website for much of the day featured a photo of a man standing with a military-style rifle in front of what appeared to be a smashed retail storefront.

    The image was actually a mashup of photos from different days, taken by different photographers — it was done by splicing a Getty Images photo of an armed man, who had been at the protest zone June 10, with other images from May 30 of smashed windows in downtown Seattle. Another altered image combined the gunman photo with yet another image, making it appear as though he was standing in front of a sign declaring “You are now entering Free Cap Hill.”


    Also this week, Fox News reported a joke from a scene in Monty Python as a reality in Seattle. Check it out:

    As you’ll see, after Fox News read a scene from Monty Python (not Seattle), Fox News then turned to a reporter from the Daily Caller, which has been called out numerous times for their racist coverage supporting white supremacists. Who founded the Daily Caller? [Fox News host Tucker Carlson]. Who funds the Daily Caller? What agenda does the Daily Caller have? What major corporations are the biggest advertisers on the Daily Caller?


    So, do the clear lies and manipulation by Fox News bear some responsibility for recent happenings like this?

    Roofing company workers forced onto ground, held at gunpoint by man who thought they were Antifa: Felony charges are possible in wake of the incident in a Loveland neighborhood. A victim was a CSU football player.

    Spokane family harassed, then trapped in forest campsite in Western Washington, sheriff’s office says

    A [multi=racial] Spokane family’s camping trip in Western Washington became a nightmarish experience when armed locals accused them of being left-wing extremists, followed their bus along a forest road and cut down trees to prevent them from leaving the woods, according to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.

    [Black] Teen [in Missoula]: Armed group [of white people] wanted ‘reason to hunt me down’

    Recent outcry over the handling of a brief detainment at a Black Lives Matter protest in Missoula has led to a police investigation and possible charges against those who said they were there to protect the community from “Antifa.”

    The “Antifa” never came, but individuals armed with AR-15s and Facebook rumors zealously sought to defend Missoula and other Montana cities anyway, turning over one teenager to law enforcement who police deemed to be no threat after briefly speaking with him. Based on new information shared on social media in recent days, Missoula police said Thursday the department has concluded an investigation into the incident during last week’s Black Lives Matter protest in Missoula, in which people piled onto a teenager and turned him over to police. Police released the individual shortly after. That investigation has been turned over to the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, police said.

    The man who was detained briefly spoke to the Missoulian in a phone interview about the incident Friday. The man, whom the Missoulian is not naming due to his concerns of safety, is black and said the narrative pushed by the armed individuals after the incident — that he was a threat to protesters and even had been carrying a gun — was twisted to make them look like legitimate protectors.

    “The narrative being switched that I was a part of ‘Antifa’ when, you know, I’ve been in Missoula since I was four years old,” he said. “It almost seemed like they were really trying to find a reason to hunt me down, and that was scary to me. … It’s very similar to what happened to (Ahmaud) Arbery.”….

    The armed individuals who initially arrived opposite of those protesting the death of George Floyd said last week they were at the demonstration to protect the local businesses from destruction seen in larger cities around the country. Facebook has been rife with rumors, debunked by law enforcement, of “Antifa” coming into town in vans, lore which was also propelled by longtime state lawmaker Jennifer Fielder.”

    Note: Montana Republican state lawmaker Jennifer Fielder is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Lands Council. Fielder and the American Lands Council have a long history of trying to take over America’s federal public lands, and Fielder is a supporter of Cliven Bundy (and has shared the stage with Bundy), the guy who lead an armed take-over of a National Wildlife Refuge, has flat-out refused to pay any federal grazing fees (Bundy currently owns the American people over $1 million in unpaid grazing fees) and at Bundy’s standoff in Bunkerville, one of Bundy’s supporters had a high-powered military assault rifle pointed directly at federal Bureau of Land Management Agents. As there are lot of former U.S. Forest Service employees on this site, I wonder how they feel about Bundy doing such things to ‘terrorize’ their fellow federal public land management employees?

    • Matthew, I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything by Fox News. And I think it’s a stretch from a journal article about the changing structure of journalism to Jennifer Fielder. If you can make the case that Fielder supports Bundy and she was elected by folks in Montana, that is not good as you said. But it still doesn’t relate back to the broader question of who is paying for what journalism.

  6. Is this post suggesting that the OPB/ProPublica/Oregonian piece is part of an effort to keep DeFazio in his seat? Wow. What a STRETCH. First, DeFazio is not at risk. Second, DeFazio is not at risk. Third, DeFazio is not at risk.

    • 2nd… who knows what campaigns are out there funded by whom to what ends? It would be nice if those unlikely to win were never targeted by the opposing party and their friends, but I don’t think that’s how it works.


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