In the end, despite Jarvis’ general critique of “charity” journalism, he does say that some of his best friends are nonprofits. He offers several excellent suggestions, including that “Philanthropy should support that which the market will not support.” One such area on which we can all agree: labor-intensive accountability reporting, especially on the local level. Commercial media models have so fair failed to solve this problem.

Thanks to a deluge of online metrics, editors can plainly see that this type of reporting rarely generates enough traffic to cover the costs of creation, even if they have tremendous civic value (i.e. making a city less corrupt, or schools better, or water more drinkable). This is exactly the kind of “market failure” that the philanthropic sector should be addressing, and it is an area of finite dimension. Indeed, we need philanthropists to double their contribution in this area, not cut back. A meaningful increase in philanthropic giving actually could have an enormous impact.

Good journalism needs all the help it can get, which means a robust combination of both commercial innovation and philanthropic support. Angels, after all, need two wings to fly.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.


Steven Waldman was senior advisor to the Chairman of the FCC and principal author of its report on the changing media landscape. He was chair of the Council on Foundations Working Group on Nonprofit Media and is a consultant to the Pew Research Center. Before that, he was the founder of and a national correspondent for Newsweek.