October 19, 2017
Funding Journalism – A Critical Part of a Funder’s Toolkit
By Erin Kahn
Executive Director, Raikes Foundation

A few weeks ago, I designed and moderated a panel at the Philanthropy Northwest Annual Conference titled, “Philanthropy, Community & the Free Press: How and Why We Support Local Journalism.” Investing in journalism is an important part of the Raikes Foundation’s toolkit, and my goal was to bring light to how philanthropy can fund journalism to both expose and address social problems, as well as elevate underrepresented voices.

Our goal at the Raikes Foundation is the break down the barriers that hold young people back from success, and build up the environments where they learn and grow. But understanding how systems impact young people, such as the education system, child welfare, juvenile justice, as well as how young people experience them, can be difficult for even the most well-versed experts to absorb. 

This is where investing in journalism can be especially impactful. Journalists know how to do their homework and tell a good story, and that can bring deeper attention to community challenges and potential solutions in a way that’s accessible, engaging and fosters empathy. While some foundations invest in journalism to advance democracy broadly, we see thoughtful journalism as key to shedding light on the barriers that homeless young people face, or amplifying ways to design more equitable schools, or the highlighting the work of our state’s incredible expanded learning programs.  

Over the last few years, we’ve invested in Cross Cut and the Seattle Times to expand the quality and depth of reporting on our region’s growing youth homelessness crisis. We’ve also invested in outlets like the Hechinger Report and Education Week to help bring advancements in the science of learning and development and learning mindsets to the education field. These investments have helped us reach audiences we might not able to reach on our own and elevate crucial issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Philanthropic investment in journalism can be risky—foundations can be seen as exerting too much influence on a publication through their grantmaking. But the revenue model for journalism has changed rapidly over the last decade, along with the rise of amateur reporting and outright misinformation. This has created an environment where well-researched, substantive reporting is more critical than ever. Our media and journalism grantees take care to maintain editorial independence. They choose what to write and how to present it. This means there’s a corresponding risk that we might not agree with the positioning or coverage of an issue. But, this is a risk the Raikes Foundation is willing to take in order to uphold the firewall between funder and grantee.

During the panel an audience member noted that, “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” She’s right. Stories matter—they help people understand complex problems, and move them to action. And for those reasons, they’re an indispensable part of our toolkit. 

Thank you to the panel’s three speakers, David Brotherton, Brotherton Strategies; Brady Walkinshaw, Grist; and Kimberly A.C. Wilson, Meyer Memorial Trust, as well as to Philanthropy Northwest for hosting us at the 2017 Annual Conference.