Foundation Support Plays Key Role for Newspaper

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In the world of journalism, Education Week is an unusual animal. It is a specialized newspaper, but unlike other publications in the commercial world of trade publishing, it is run by a nonprofit corporation. At the same time, it is independent of the many associations and advocacy groups in education.

The newspaper has a subscriber base of 50,000 that generated 23 percent of its $12.6 million in revenue for fiscal 2006, which ended July 31. Display and classified advertising provided 60 percent. Still, unlike most newspapers, Education Week seeks financial support from foundations, which contributed about 15 percent of its 2006 budget.

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Such funding has played a critical role over the years. The Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Exxon Education Foundation, among other philanthropies, chipped in to help launch the paper in 1981.

In the late 1990s, the Pew Charitable Trusts began financing the annual Quality Counts reports that analyze and grade states on their education policies. The Milken Exchange on Education Technology and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have made grants to support several editions of the Technology Counts reports.

Late in 2005, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation approved a four-year, $2.5 million grant for a series of reports on high school graduation rates and related issues.

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Foundation funding provides the wherewithal to do in-depth reporting, particularly at a time when many for-profit media outlets have cut back on their resources for such journalism, said Virginia B. Edwards, the editor and publisher of Education Week and the president of its parent organization Editorial Projects in Education. EPE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization under the federal tax code.

“We might be able to do some of these” projects supported by grants, Ms. Edwards said. “But the fact is we need grant funding to do the high-quality reporting that we do.”

All grants cover a “broad topic area” that the newspaper would write about without outside support, she said. In its grant applications, the newspaper does not promise that specific stories will appear, and it retains sole editorial control over stories tied to grants.

But some observers of the newspaper ask whether in devoting an often-substantial portion of its pages to foundation-supported coverage, Education Week is compromising its independence.

With last week’s edition, the paper launched a weekly section dedicated to coverage of education research under a new grant from the Spencer Foundation, a Chicago-based philanthropy dedicated to promoting such research.

“Any organization that has an agenda … one has to assume that they don’t want to give you money to cover things that they don’t consider to be worthwhile,” said Fenwick W. English, a professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an Education Week subscriber for more than a decade.

Such arrangements are becoming more common among nonprofit news organizations serving specialized audiences, according to Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The nonprofit institute owns the St. Petersburg Times, Congressional Quarterly, Governing magazine, and several other publications and uses their profits to support its research and training programs for journalists. It also accepts foundation grants for specific projects.

National Public Radio and the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on public television credit foundations for supporting their newscasts. Specialty publications such as the Columbia Journalism Review and Governing, which serves an audience of state and municipal policymakers, also accept grants for general support or research projects.

Grants to underwrite journalism don’t violate any ethical standards, Ms. McBride said, so long as the newspaper doesn’t take on projects that it wouldn’t otherwise do.

“The dangers are that you will concede your independence in pursuit of funding,” she said.

Vol. 26, Issue 02, Page 39

Published in Print: September 6, 2006, as Foundation Support Plays Key Role for Newspaper
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