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Knight moves to support donor transparency

Posted: April 16, 2012 | Tags: Transparency

Nonprofit entrepreneurs are always a little reluctant to comment on the policies and practices of philanthropic foundations, for obvious reasons. If we are too critical or sometimes even a little bit critical, there is a very real risk of our funding drying up. And if we are complimentary, we run the embarrassing risk of appearing to be unctuous and obsequious, resembling Eddie Haskell on the old TV show "Leave it to Beaver."

But nonetheless, and stepping gingerly here, I commend the Knight Foundation for its new policy announced yesterday, requiring journalism and media grantees to disclose the identities and amounts contributed by major donors. (In the interest of full disclosure, the Investigative Reporting Workshop is a previous recipient of a Knight grant.)

According to the release, “As media demand a more open society, society is demanding a more open media,”  Michael Maness, vice president for Journalism and Media Innovation at Knight Foundation said. “Transparency improves credibility and encourages engagement. People want to know who is paying for their news — and news organizations need to be transparent to ensure their own success.”

For years, I have spoken and written about the importance of donor transparency in approximately 20 articles about nonprofit journalism written since 2007, and in forums before Investigative Reporters and Editors, the American Society of News Editors and before the Online News Association panel discussion I proposed and moderated in Washington, D.C., in October 2010. Last November, here at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, we found that transparency among the “new journalism ecosystem” of nonprofit news organizations had improved in just one year, from 78 percent of 60 organizations examined in 2010 to 88 percent in 2011. And, as a co-founder and treasurer, I was delighted that the Investigative News Network in January 2011 adopted formal donor disclosure policies for all member organizations.  

The Knight Foundation is certainly not the only journalism and media-related philanthropic foundation in the United States to believe in and extol the importance of transparency in nonprofit news organizations. But to my knowledge, this new Knight move is the first instance of a publicly announced foundation requirement of grantee donor disclosure, as a pre-condition of eligibility for philanthropic support. 

Let the sunshine in.


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