The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (See MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Film) is one of the nation's largest independent foundations. It is a multi-billion dollar organization that awards around $230 million in grants annually. It issues grants and loans through four general programs: International Programs, U.S. Programs, the MacArthur Fellows Program, and Media, Culture & Special Initiatives. The MacArthur Foundation's grantmaking in public interest media projects is its longest-running program, probably the most visible, and the one many people associate with the Foundation.
The MacArthur Foundation's media grantmaking began in 1983 with a focus on "supporting independent and diverse perspectives on broadcast television." Since 2000 these grants have grown into strong support of investigative journalism and deep reporting, not just on public television (of which it is a major underwriter), but on radio and the web as well.
Its grantmaking priorities are fairly specific. The foundation aims to supportindividual documentary film and radio projects, as well as programs that "identify, co-produce, and broadcast documentary films and radio pieces on important social issues." It does this through grants to non-commercial news sources as well as some non-traditional avenues via the web. It is of course famously supportive of programs like Frontline and the PBS NewsHour, but also lends support to programming like Radio Diaries and StoryCorps, and internet sources like LinkTV and Global Voices.
The MacArthur Foundation recently announced nine documentary film grants totaling over $1 million in awards. Kathy Im, MacArthur’s Director for Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives (Ready Kathy Im's IP profile), explained about the nine projects that were chosen out of a field of 400 proposals. "MacArthur’s media grantmaking supports work that explores contemporary social issues with high quality reporting intended to inform, educate, and inspire reflection and action."
The MacArthur Foundation assesses its media grantmanking according to three main criteria: reach of support (i.e. size of audience); quality of content (awards, etc.); and signs of policy impact (legal or policy changes). The Foundation has regular open calls for documentary film proposals and the best way to keep abreast of these is to sign up for its newsletter, read the Media Grant Guidelines, and check the website regularly.
Along with Director Kathy Im, Elspeth Revere is the Vice President of Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives at the Foundation (Read Elspeth Revere's IP profile). Both can be contacted here with any questions regarding any of these programs.