Name-Changer: Behind a Gift to Boost Longform Nonfiction Work

I have good news for all of the journalism purists out there. Funders continue to see the value of deep and transformative investigative work in an age of 140 characters.

For proof, we turn to Rensselaerville, New York, where the Carey Institute for Global Good announced that its Nonfiction Program received a $1 million long-term grant from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation of Berkeley, California. In recognition of this major milestone, the program has been renamed the Logan Nonfiction Program.

The cross-disciplinary residency is a kind of oasis for nonfiction writers, investigative reporters, photojournalists, documentary filmmakers and multimedia journalists. It was founded in 2015 and has hosted 44 fellows for periods of up to three months at the Institute’s 100-acre estate in upstate New York.

Fourteen new writers, journalists and documentary filmmakers joined the program in the fall of 2016, forming the third class of fellows. They include recipients of the MacArthur "Genius" Award, the Harvard Nieman Fellowship, the Fulbright Fellowship, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Fellowship, and many more.

Clearly, this model resonated with the Logan Family Foundation, so much that Chairman Jonathan Logan dipped his feet in somewhat hyperbolic waters by saying, "There is no other space where journalists have strong support in a nurturing environment for their important work. We are proud to be a part of it."

We're not sure what investigative reporters at the New York Times or ProPublica might think of that assessment, but Logan's broader point is well taken. In an ever more distracted society in which fewer media outlets have resources to back in-depth writing, long-form nonfiction does face some profound threats. As it happens, though, not all readers are happy with "listicles" and "charticles." There remains a strong and steady demand for long-form work, judging by the success of epic articles in places like the Atlantic and even Time that run to the tens of thousands of words, as well as the rise of aggregators of such pieces like Longform.org. What's critical is ensuring that writers have the means to actually write such pieces, as well as undertake other long-form work in documentary film and other mediums.  

All of which is to say that Jonathan Logan has found a strong and focused niche to invest in. His family has been a key supporter of the program from the get-go. The Carey Institute received $100,000 in initial funding for the program from Jonathan via the Reva and David Logan Foundation as well as a matching grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in 2015. Additional funding has come from the Stewart R. Mott Foundation and the Dyson Foundation.

Related: When Mainstream Media Passes on In-Depth Storytelling, This Fund Fills the Gap

Jonathan Logan's interest in journalism goes back quite a long way. He's been on the board of the Center for Investigative Reporting for over a decade, while the Reva and David Logan Foundation has made grants for investigative journalism to range of organizations. 

With the election season finally over, it's easy to feel existential about a journalism space in which the metric of effectiveness is the number of pithy, endorphin-generating Tweets churned out in a day. Fortunately, funders like the Logan, Knight, Mott, and Dyson Foundations still see a role for transformative investigative journalism and multi-media nonfiction work.