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Funders say what they need/want/wish for

Several of the biggest funders of non-profit journalism ran a session at the Online News Association last week on what they look for in grantees and where they think the industry is going. [Full disclosure that several of them are funders of the Center.]

Snippets I found interesting and thought shareable with this audience include:

  • “Presumptive renewal is not a good thing” said Ford Foundation program officer Barbara Raab. She talked strongly of grantees who assume they will get renewed and therefore either don’t pitch well or don’t understand why a foundation might have shifted its area of interest away from them – through no fault of the grantees. She urged grantees to “plan for the possibility that there is not going to be a renewal”.
  • Some Foundations are starting to support for-profit news organizations, Gates Foundation and The Guardian developing country coverage for example. Lauren Pabst from the MacArthur Foundation said they wouldn’t fund a for-profit group but they would introduce a funded non-profit or project to a for-profit for a collaboration. Jennifer Preston of the Knight Foundation noted that Knight had funded a mobile content lab at The Guardian on the basis that the UK publisher had “demonstrated incredible capability and capacity for innovation and for change” and would share the findings from the mobile newsroom lab with the rest of the industry.
  • Tom Glaisyer of the Democracy Fund talked about the trust grantors and grantees place in each other and the way that can become a partnership where DF recognizes: “If you get in the door it means you have a good idea. We have far more good ideas than we can possibly fund.” Then they need a frank and open conversation. “No one is ever the perfect grantee,” he said, so be open about your problems and hopes and performance of projects.
  • Molly de Aguiar from the Dodge Foundation echoed that: “We can’t help you if you don’t know what the challenges are. I really appreciate and value it.”
  • All of the panel shook their heads in horror at the idea they ever asked for influence or approval over journalism produced by their non-profit grantees. Barbara Raab urged grantees to be clear about those boundaries and not jeopardize their integrity: “You have much more to risk than the foundation has.”

Bots to automate reporting tasks

Rachel Baye, a Money & Politics reporter at the Center noted a session she was in on: “how to build bots to automate aspects of reporting. For example, you could build a bot to scrape Health and Human Services’ website every time new data appears. Another example given during the session was a bot that alerts you when a court makes a ruling in a case you’re interested in. This second example was created using IFTTT and a feed from Pacer, which seems simple enough that those in the Center with little to no coding background (like me) could build it. It also would have a lot of applicability to our reporting, since stalking a specific court case is something I know I’ve done in the past. The session has recorded audio, in case anyone wants to hear what I heard.

Jared Bennett, our web editor and author of this week’s excellent piece on hedge funds getting favored treatment in clearing housing stock lost in the mortgage crisis, noted a session about how to innovate in political coverage:

The best session I’ve been to so far was about covering politics in non-traditional ways. To sum it up, the idea was to stop thinking about coverage as something that results in a news article, but rather a cross-platform campaign. The NPR station in LA KPCC covered the mayoral election using a campaign called “#makealcare” where they picked 1 actual, living breathing Los Angeles resident who wasn’t planning on voting and used their coverage to convince him why voting matters. It provided focus for the coverage and also allowed citizens to get involved. The outgoing Mayor even made a video convincing Al to vote. Here’s the hashtag:

I thought it was great, a clear example of how A. we should personalize our stories and B. news needs to live on every platform, Twitter, Snapchat and the rest don’t exist just to send clicks back to our site.

Further on Jared’s story, I want to call out the work he put in to it since his day job is web editor. The story was also immensely helped by powerful visual applications by Yue Qiu and Chris Zubak-Skees. John Dunbar was also a big help to Jared in giving him a forensic edit to draw the strongest elements from a complex subject.

Soles fellow connects Pope to politics

The Center has a new fellow in the Soles grant founded by Chuck Lewis which we are proud to continue. This year’s fellow Cady Zuvich had a valuable spot piece on how a Catholic Super PAC was laying low during the Pope’s visit.

I welcome any feedback on this note.

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