By our count, at least three dozen charitable foundations in Canada have found ways to support journalism. But there is a strong case to be made for more funder involvement. We make that case in Funding Journalism: A Guide for Canadian Philanthropy.
The guide, a collaborative initiative of the Local News Research Project at Toronto Metropolitan University, Inspirit Foundation and Philanthropic Foundations Canada, provides practical information and tools for foundations looking to work with non-profit or for-profit media organizations.
It begins, however, by pointing out that support for journalism serves the interest of foundations themselves. That is because trustworthy news and information are essential to a well-functioning democracy and because journalism is often a natural ally in tackling many of the complex issues funders themselves are working to resolve.
Quality journalism — defined for our purposes as journalism that serves the public, is produced independent of vested interests and is committed to accuracy and transparency in its reporting methods — helps foundations achieve their goals because it:
· Equips people with the trustworthy information they need to vote, hold power accountable and make informed decisions about what is happening in their communities;
· Puts issues that are important to people, funders, and the wider non-profit and charitable sector on the agenda of policy makers and the public;
· Introduces into the public domain information and ideas that can influence or challenge dominant narratives in a way that changes minds and spurs action.
The guide includes concrete examples of how philanthropy is supporting journalism in Canada. While there still aren’t all that many examples, what we found is that funder dollars combined with intrepid reporting are already producing change that matters.
Consistent with its goal of advancing social inclusion and pluralism, Inspirit Foundation is one of several foundations that support IndigiNews, an Indigenous-led newsroom that covers reproductive health and other issues relevant to Indigenous communities.
Its reporting on the British Columbia government’s now discontinued use of birth alerts, which saw a disproportionate number of Indigenous babies taken from their mothers at birth, earned the newsroom a 2023 CJF Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism. The coverage also informed a subsequent class action lawsuit on behalf of parents subjected to birth alerts.
The Atkinson Foundation’s concerns about the erosion of decent work and the need for more equitable economic growth led it to fund a work-and-wealth beat at the Toronto Star. The foundation’s contract with the newspaper was, in its own words, a way to tackle the “inequality of voice that exists in society.” The high-impact, public interest journalism subsequently produced by the Star included an exposé of rampant abuses by temp agencies and employers and resulted in government attempts to improve workplace protections for vulnerable workers.
The Winnipeg Foundation’s recognition that climate change affects its ability to advance community wellbeing factored into its decision to fund a climate change reporter who is producing content for both The Narwhal and the Winnipeg Free Press.
And the Vohra Miller Foundation’s commitment to improving health outcomes led it to join other funders in supporting The Local, a Toronto-based digital magazine, in a bid to improve health equity in the Greater Toronto Area.
In 2021, The Local‘s pandemic coverage shone the spotlight on the limited access to COVID-19 vaccines in Peel Region, home to many immigrant and front-line workers. Two weeks after the first story appeared, the Ontario government announced a policy allocating 50 per cent of all vaccines to COVID-19 hotspots, including Peel.
Funding Journalism: A Guide for Canadian Philanthropy includes information on how foundations can support for-profit public interest media, non-profit newsrooms and the 11 news outlets that to date have been confirmed as registered journalism organizations by the Canada Revenue Agency. Like other registered charities, RJOs can issue tax receipts to individual donors, receive direct funding from philanthropic foundations and are exempt from paying income tax.
The guide also shares best practices for protecting editorial independence in funding relationships. It offers advice to foundations on how to realistically measure the impact of their support — not every story leads to new laws or dramatic exposés of social injustice. And it outlines how philanthropic funding can help build more diverse newsrooms and expand coverage to include groups and issues that have long been ignored or misrepresented.
The funder guide is the second in a series of bilingual publications aimed at building a better understanding of journalism philanthropy in Canada. The first documented five case studies of media outlets that have received support through a variety of funding mechanisms.
In the coming months, we will work with the Canadian Association of Journalists to produce a third publication that answers journalists’ questions about philanthropy and how it might support their work.
In producing these resources, we recognize the need to manage expectations. Philanthropic dollars alone can’t repair news industry balance sheets: Total television, radioand newspaper advertising revenue in 2021 was down $3.5 billion from 2012 levels.
Foundations, by comparison, dispersed $10 billion in 2021 to support direct programming for health, environmental, social justice and other causes at a time when demand for charitable services is at an all-time high.
Still, we found compelling evidence that even the modest engagement of Canadian funders with journalism to date has contributed significantly to community wellbeing. A little journalism philanthropy, it turns out, can go a long way.
Ana Sofia Hibon
Ana Sofia Hibon is a program manager at Inspirit Foundation. Inspirit is a public foundation based in Toronto that supports arts and media to advance an inclusive and pluralist Canada. Over the past five years, Inspirit has supported a wide range of journalism initiatives and collaborated with philanthropic peers in this space.
Sara Krynitzki is director, public affairs and research, Philanthropic Foundations of Canada. PFC is Canada’s national philanthropic network, bringing foundations and grantmakers together in pursuit of a more just, equitable and sustainable world.