Foundation Friday: “Astroturfing” and foundations

A bit of fine reporting, and thoughtful skepticism, from the Community Media Workshop about the relationship between community groups and the philanthropies who fund them.  And another example of the same phenom, from the same dogged source. When foundations fund community groups, whose voice really gets heard: the community’s, or the foundation’s?

This is something we ought to be wary of, as we begin to hear calls for foundations to take over funding newspapers.  If those same foundations are funding a particular approach to school reform, can we expect to see that approach critically appraised in the pages of its captive newspaper?

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3 Responses to “Foundation Friday: “Astroturfing” and foundations”

  1. Yana Davis Says:

    As for foundations taking over newspapers — the name National Public Newspaper keeps coming to mind — there are pros and cons, I think.

    The best course would be formation of new foundations to own and oversee the newspapers, with editorial freedom and donor neutrality expressly written into the incorporating documents.

    Less favorable would be newspapers being owned and managed by existing foundations, which would bring whatever ideological baggage the foundation has to the editorial table.

    Many years ago, I first heard the notion that, in any strategic planning process, the first question that has to be answered correctly goes something like, “What business are we in?”

    Newspapers are in the business of delivering news to readers. This has been gilded over time with legend, myth, sentiment and so forth, such that it’s hard, especially for people who work at newspapers, to figure out this simple fact.

    Just as horse drawn carriages quickly lost out in the “getting people from point A and to point B quickly and cheaply” competition, newspapers are losing out rapidly to other conveyances which deliver the news from point A to point B.

    If there are reasons newspapers should continue more or less as they are, marketers will figure out how to do it. That is not an argument against foundation ownership and management of papers, but it is an argument for newspaper companies undergoing profound restructuring based on a clear focus on what business they are really in.

    If they believe they’re in the business of guarding antiquities, like museums, then foundations will be the only way to go and we can look forward to the first issue of the National Public Newspaper.

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      Newspapers are, indeed, in the business of delivering news to readers–but they’re also in the business of determining what constitutes news. There’s no reason for us to subsidize reports of local murders, but there might be a reason to subsidize reports of local government activities–even if in general those activities aren’t interesting enough to a wide enough variety of people for them to be commercially self-sustaining. The reason to cover Village board meetings isn’t that they’re generally gripping but that they’re so boring they offer a perfect opportunity for graft and corruption: while the cat’s away . . . . So we need to figure out how to pay for the public good “oversight of local government” [or national government, or monopolistic corporation, or whatever else needs careful monitoring], and how to make sure that the people who pay for that public good don’t then put their fingers on the scale.

  2. Philanthropists Says:

    Philanthropists…

    […]Foundation Friday: “Astroturfing” and foundations « The Nonprofiteer[…]…

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