Journalism & Communications

The ongoing evolution of the media industry—not to mention the battle between print and digital media—contribute to how, and sometimes why, individual donors give to J-Schools and journalism programs at colleges and universities around the country. The overwhelming theme in recent major J-School donations is that donors want to foster traditional journalism while recognizing the importance of digital media. And increasingly in an era characterized by the proliferation of so-called "fake news," grant makers and individual donors are making large gifts aimed at enhancing people's media literacy, the ability to evaluate sources of information and distinguish fact from fiction. More big gifts to journalism are likely: At the start of 2017, Arizona State University announced a $1.5 billion campaign, including plans to raise $50 million for its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and another $90 million for Arizona PBS, the station run by the journalism school.

Here at IP, we have reviewed major journalism school gifts from individual donors over the past few years and are analyzing new gifts nearly every week. This guide explores who's writing the checks, what programs are getting the money, and what strings are attached to how the money is spent.

Who’s Giving?

Individual donors comprise a small group, and, needless to say, this giving space is extremely tight. Unlike most other major areas of higher-education gift making, alumni do not dominate the lists of big donors to journalism schools. Many individual donors in this area come from the media industry itself.

Sure, some big names in the media industry have given generously to J-Schools. In recent years, the million-plus donor list has been dominated by some quieter people and foundations.

The 2017 Princeton-Fung Global Forum, created in 2012 with a $10 million gift from William Fung, a Princeton University graduate and former trustee, was held in Berlin. Topics included fake news and efforts to maintain the balance between privacy and security in journalism's digital age.

Supported by a grant from the Robert E. McCormick Foundation, a November 2016 study by Stanford University researchers found that, among nearly 8,000 middle school and college students, 82 percent were unable to tell the difference between fake and real news stories.

In early 2017, Boston's Barr Foundation teamed up with the Heising-Simons Foundation to make grants to help keep journalism strong. The grants will support five nonprofit organizations, including Northeastern University and Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy. The two academic institutions will conduct joint research on media-related issues.

In April 2017, Pennsylvania State University announced a $30 million pledge from Donald P. Bellisario, a television writer, producer, and director, to establish the Donald P. Bellisario Media Center. Bellisario, who served in the Marine Corps before earning a journalism degree from Penn State in 1961, directed that first preference be given to undergraduates who are past or present service members. In gratitude for the gift, Penn State has also named its college of communications for the donor.

Jack and Emma Anderson bequeathed over $16 million to Santa Clara University and San Jose State University. The gift is to be split almost evenly between the two schools. $8.7 million was awarded to San Jose State University toward the establishment of the Center for New Media and Social Media Research. Part of the funding will also facilitate the school's transition from print to digital publications.

Jack and Emma Anderson were the former owners of Globe Printing, which published San Jose State’s Spartan Daily for over three decades. Mr. Anderson was well known for inviting journalism students to come to Globe for hands-on experience in the newspaper industry.

After Mr. Anderson’s passing in 1989, Emma Anderson ran Globe Printing, closing its doors in 1997. Mrs. Anderson was heavily involved in Santa Clara’s Catala Club, an organization "for women to help further Santa Clara University’s educational mission.” Emma Anderson passed in 2012.

Moving on to the other side of the country, Leo Hindery Jr. gifted $5 million to Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. The funds endow scholarships for journalism grad students. Leo Hindrey, who is not a Columbia alumnus, is the Chairman of InterMedia Advisors in New York, which manages investments for InterMedia Partners VII. Hindery’s daughter attended Columbia, graduating with a master’s degree in journalism.

The late Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief, made a $30 million grant in 2012 to both Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford University’s School of Engineering to create a bi-coastal Institute for Media Innovation.

Who’s Getting?

As we mentioned before, the circle of donors to J-Schools and programs is a small one. As such, these individual donors tend to take great pains when deciding which schools to endow. This translates into bigger checks for bigger schools.

Major Universities

All recent major donations to J-Schools and programs were gifted to universities. In one such example, John and Mary Kaiser gave $1.36 million to the University of Kansas Journalism School for continuation of the scholarship fund the couple started in 2005. John Kaiser was a 1951 graduate of the university’s journalism school.

Robert Mann gave $1 million to the University of Miami School of Communication. Mann is a cofounder of US Biochemical Corporation, a Cleveland-based bio-tech company. Mann’s gift will endow scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in journalism. John Mann is a 1970 graduate of the university. During his time there, he co-founded and acted as general manager of the school’s radio station.

What are the Gifts For?

J-School scholarships tend to be favored over capital campaigns and new construction. Scholarships for both undergrad and grad students, and the establishment of new journalism centers within existing schools are major areas of focus in J-School donations.

For example, Harold McGraw’s children gave the CUNY Graduate school of Journalism $3 million to establish the The Harold W. McGraw Jr. Center for Business Journalism. A portion of those funds is designated for scholarships, with the rest going toward three to six month stipends for students who choose to complete their summer internships reporting on business and the economy. As well, University of Missouri-Columbia recently received $1 million from alumnus Walter B. Potter, Jr. to bolster community journalism through the Walter B. Potter Fund for Innovation in Local Journalism.

How the Gifts Happen

Making these multi-million dollar gifts happen takes a concerted effort from journalism school deans and college presidents. Addressing and embracing the tumultuous relationship between new media and print media is a leading topic among J-School leaders. Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, recently said,

“Sweeping changes in digital technology and the global marketplace have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the news media that demand our constant reflection on the mission and substance of a modern journalism education.  Our Journalism School is thriving today because of its innovative response to these developments…”

What Strings are Attached?

    The strings attached to J-School gifts are not unusual. New buildings are typically named after the donor that significantly contributed to its construction, such as the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Center for Business Journalism. Scholarships and endowments are always named after the donors that establish and continue to fund the coffers.

    Insights and Tips

    Since alumni don't play as heavily in this area of individual higher education giving, making these gifts happen may be a bit more difficult. While journalism just doesn’t seem to elicit as much individual donor buzz as athletics, business schools or medical schools, that has begun to change in an era when philanthropists are increasingly alarmed by the proliferation of fake news. A growing number of individuals and organizations aim to help people get better at judging the validity of the news and sources of information that they consume. 

    Currently, media industry moguls are the biggest pool of donors in this giving space. What’s surprising is that so little new media money has jumped on board with J-School funding. It’s the old media mavens and masters who are the major benefactors when it comes to journalism school donations. That doesn’t mean that new media money isn’t ready and willing to invest in this funding area — perhaps they are. It is possible that they just aren’t as well known or courted as heavily as those in the traditional media industry.

    Judging from the comments of Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger, it’s looking more and more like those lines between old and new media are beginning to blur. That said, new media mavens and masters may present a great deal of funding potential for J-Schools in the coming years. Bringing the two sides of media together is also a hot-button funding topic that has gained a lot of steam over the past few years. At the least, it's something fundraisers should be looking into.