A recent Ford Foundation grant to the Los Angeles Times highlights the heightened competition pubcasters face for philanthropic dollars in a fast-changing media world. The $1.04 million two-year grant to the newspaper, a subsidiary of the Tribune Company media conglomerate, marks the first time Ford has directly supported a major for-profit daily. The money will be used to hire staff members to cover new and expanded beats, including immigration and California’s prison system. The decision to pay for additional reporters, Ford spokesman Alfred Ironside explains in an email, resulted from the grantmaker’s exploration of “new models for sustaining quality, independent journalism that reaches more people at a time when newsrooms are under stress.” Ford is considering similar grants to other for-profit news organizations, he writes. Such developments worry observers of public broadcasting.
“News this good isn’t free.” I find myself delivering some variation on that remark during every single public radio pledge break on WNPR this spring. We’ve been saying this in Connecticut for years: “Despite the fact that you don’t have to pay for public radio news, you can’t expect to just keep getting stories about the Mexican drug war from John Burnett … or Anne Garrels reporting from an unstable Pakistan for nothing.” Right? We tell our listeners all the time that their contributions make our high-quality journalism possible, and without their help, it could all go away. So it’s understandable that newspaper people might have been a little piqued by the memo leaked to Jim Romenesko’s Poynter.org blog this month.