API publishes guidelines for philanthropic funding of news

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The American Press Institute released broad guidelines Thursday for building relationships between funders and nonprofit media that maintain independence and promote transparency and open communication.

The guidelines, which have emerged from two years of work, frame roles for each side.

Both nonprofit media and foundation funders are advised to uphold editorial independence by prohibiting pre-publication editorial review and any effort to influence conclusions or outcomes. Funders should also avoid being the sole underwriters of specific stories or series.

“News organizations should have a review process to determine whether to accept and how to handle funds for limited purposes, such as coverage of a beat or issue, especially if funders have an interest in related policy outcomes,” according to the guidelines.

In addition, each should be transparent about their funding relationships and be able to explain them to the public.

News organizations should provide clear ethics and fundraising policies. They should accept anonymous donations “under carefully considered conditions” and within criteria that was developed in advance.

The guidelines advise news organizations to initiate conversations with funders on the journalism they wish to produce. “When civic or community engagement is part of a grant, journalists and funders should agree in advance what that means,” the report says.

API developed the guidelines following a meeting last fall that convened funders, nonprofit media executives and scholars to help map the framework. Prior to that, API released a report last April on the ethical terrain of nonprofit journalism. It was based on a survey of funders and nonprofit and commercial media outlets about their current practices.

Read the full report.