Donors Invest Millions in Investigative Journalism Centers at US Universities
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Donors Invest Millions in Investigative Journalism Centers at US Universities

GIJN |
November 13, 2018

Arizona State University, which boasts the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, is one of two universities to launch investigative reporting centers based on funding from the Scripps-Howard Foundation. Image: Facebook


News out of the US states of Arizona and Maryland in August found yet another funder riding to the rescue of American journalism at a moment when the media, and the truth itself, is increasingly under attack.

The Scripps-Howard Foundation, the philanthropic arm of media giant EW Scripps Company, provided $3 million in grants — $1 million per year for three years — to launch investigative reporting centers dubbed “Howard Centers” at Arizona State University and the University of Maryland.

Christopher Callahan, dean of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, called the gift the largest single investment in investigative journalism at the university level. “I would argue that investigative journalism has always been an incredibly important part of our country and part of our democracy… but it’s more important now than ever before,” he said.

Scripps-Howard Foundation president and CEO Liz Carter also alluded to the “new normal” across the journalism landscape. The foundation has always been a supporter of journalism, but the rise of data and “misinformation” has added an even greater sense of urgency.

“In today’s world, there is a lot more information, there is a lot more data for the public to sift through, and there is a lot more opportunity for misinformation. But there are also more resources for journalists to use and investigate. Journalists today take a leadership role much earlier in their careers,” said Carter.

And therein lies the challenge. Struggling newsrooms, awash in data, lack the resources to provide the necessary training to help newly hired investigative reporters separate the signal from the noise. The foundation’s gift addresses this need by generating a robust pipeline of well-trained journalists from various backgrounds.

I’ll take a closer look at how these centers aim to populate this pipeline in a moment. But first, I’d like to revisit Carter’s concerns about “misinformation,” as her thoughts act as the thematic backdrop for the gift — and, for that matter, most gifts in the journalism space as of late.

A New Problem

ASU’s Callahan and Scripps-Howard’s Carter aren’t alone in sounding the alarm bells regarding the spread of misinformation. It’s one thing everyone in the journalism funding ecosystem can agree on. “We’re in the middle of an online information war, and the stakes are a free press, an informed public, and strong democratic institutions,” said tech entrepreneur Craig Newmark in announcing his latest journalism gift, $1 million to Mother Jones.

One emerging approach finds funders working to boost news literary. While algorithms can identify content based on keywords, they cannot discern what is truthful. And so the Google News Initiative recently announced a new round of funding to boost news literacy among consumers.

Then there’s the News Integrity Initiative. Funded by a consortium of journalism’s heaviest hitters including Facebook, the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Knight Foundation, the initiative focuses on tackling issues of trust and manipulation in an effort to nurture a “new kind of news literacy.” (In a related development, Facebook recently announced a new — and somewhat opaque — trust rating system to “help identify malicious actors.”)

Credit by - GIJN

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