Lewis addresses the ethics of donors and non-profit journalism
Charles Lewis, founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, addressed the ethics of non-profit journalism in the first session of the conference.
He said the nonprofit model of investigative reporting has gained a great following due to the crisis in traditional journalism. Many professional journalists have turned entrepreneurs, creating their own non-profit news centers out of necessity, but the ethical concerns associated with this relatively new reporting model differ from traditional for-profit reporting.
Much of Lewis’ address centered on the need for greater transparency, especially with it comes to publicizing major donors. He says most organizations he follows do disclose the source of their donations on their websites, but he believes more nonprofit centers should follow suit.
Though nonprofit investigative reporters must rely on donations from individuals or organizations, Lewis says they should be skeptical of potential donors to ensure they maintain absolutely neutrality.
“A lot of donors have not so great agendas and come of them are cagey about that and it won’t be revealed initially,” Lewis said. He said he encourages organizations to set strict standards regarding who they accept money from, staying away from corporations, labor unions and political organizations. Additionally, he said he is also wary of anonymous gifts, and would push organizations not to accept money if they don’t know the source.
In a realm where many are wary of donors’ influence over the quality of reporting, he said the most important thing is to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to neutrality. He emphasized that, just as in for-profit journalism, projects should emanate from within the organization.
“You should first come up with projects important to you, then try to find funding,” he said. This model may help organizations maintain maximum neutrality and stay faithful to traditional ethical standards.
Though Lewis admitted the ideal donor may not exist, he said he is confident in the non-profit realm’s ability to find a balance between funding their operations and staying faithful to their ideals.
“You’re not trying to please the public,” he said. “Evenutally you’ll be seen as serious and not pandering to certain interests.” He said once an organization builds their credibility, well-meaning donors will quickly follow.