Whos funding the project, and why?

Cecil Rosner

Andy Hall spent 26 years working as an award-winning reporter in Arizona and Wisconsin before leaving the newspaper industry this year to become the founding executive director of the Wisconsin Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Hall writes passionately about his leap into the new venture, balancing the anxiety of ongoing mortgage payments and education bills for his daughter with the excitement of creating journalism in the public interest. He is determined to succeed.

“WCIJ aims to increase the quality and amount of investigative
journalism in Wisconsin — whether through its own stories or by
assisting other news organizations in ways ranging from quick advice
about open records to intensive collaboration on a major investigation,” writes Hall, in an article for the Journalism Ethics for the Global Citizen.

The centre, based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is funded by a $100,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. The same week that Wisconsin heralded its new centre, Boston University announced the formation of the New England Centre for Investigative Reporting. It got an even more generous grant of $250,000 from the John and James L. Knight Foundation.

Bankrolling start-up investigative journalism projects is a relatively new concept, but it appears that foundations have been taking the lead in this regard lately. Perhaps the best-known and best-funded example is Pro Publica, an ambitious group that has already accumulated a staff of more than two dozen seasoned journalists to do journalism in the public interest. It received the bulk of its funding from the Sandler Foundation, with additional support from a host of other foundations.

The first question any good journalist asks when confronting a new project or initiative is: who is funding it, and why? It appears many of the journalistic funders are doing so with philanthropic motives in mind. But it’s reasonable to assume that the foundations need to get something in return for the dollars they are contributing. It’s not often that the foundations articulate their views on this issue, but there’s an example of just that in an issue of Carnegie Results. It provides some insights into what foundations are looking for when they bankroll journalistic projects. Joshua Benton summarizes the report in the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Meanwhile, the trend appears to be American only. There is still no substantive example yet of a Canadian foundation or non-profit group making a financial contribution to sustain an investigative journalism project. Perhaps Canadian journalists have been too shy so far to make the request.

Cecil Rosner is managing editor for CBC Manitoba and editor of J-Source’s Investigative Journalism area. He teaches investigative journalism at the University of Winnipeg, and is the author of Behind the Headlines: A History of Investigative Journalism in Canada.