How far should mainstream news outlets go in taking content from news outfits that have a strong point of view? Is it acceptable to take content from some and not others? How should they disclose funders with possible hidden agendas that may be embedded in the stories the public comes to rely on? And is an independently produced story with a point of view different from one produced by a newspaper that may also have strong opinions? Newspapers have long published stories on a range of topics and accepted advertising from multiple sources. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and there are lots of payers funding content for the entire paper. But when a news service supplies specific content on narrow topics, or a philanthropic organization funds a single magazine writer to cover a topic near and dear to its mission, one payer can more easily call the tune.
The advertising-supported model of journalism always had its own problems with conflicts. So does the philanthropic model. It’s healthy for Kuttner et al to push hard on the Post’s deal with The Fiscal Times, and for readers and critics in general to keep a hard eye on the philanthropic model. We at CJR will do the same. For consumers of news, it has always been caveat emptor. Now, with news services inserting their stories into the MSM, those words take on added meaning.