Here's a Philanthropist Joining the Fight Against "Fake News"

 Craig newmark

Craig newmark

A $1 million grant from the Craig Newmark Foundation, the charitable organization established by Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark, to the Poynter Institute addresses one of the thornier dilemmas arising from the recent election—how newsrooms should identify and respond to "fake news."

The gift supports a five-year program at Poynter that focuses on "verification, fact-checking and accountability in journalism." It also funds a faculty chair, dubbed the Newmark Chair, to expand on Poynter's teaching in journalism ethics and develop certification programs for journalists that commit to ethical decision making practices. The faculty member will also organize an annual conference on ethics issues at Poynter and be a regular contributor to Poynter.org.

It's the largest donation the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Poynter has ever received from an individual foundation.

Now, I know what you're thinking. The Poynter Institute is a nonprofit journalism school. (It also owns the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.) Shouldn't it already be up to speed in terms of journalism ethics?

Ah, if only things were so simple.

If the last few months have taught us anything, it's that the Woodward-Bernstein brand of journalism is increasingly anachronistic in our digital age. Take the spread of "fake news." Nowadays, one's source is no longer a cigarette-smoking guy in a trenchcoat under a misty Capitol Hill streetlight but a hacker named Guccifer 2.0 who may (or may not) be based in Romania.

A 24/7 news cycle and social media further exacerbate the need to produce that next big shareable scoop. Throw in an increasingly fragmented and partisan journalism space, and you can see why the propagators of fake news can dupe ethical, intelligent, and well-intentioned reporters and editors. (You can also see why American's trust in the mass media sunk to an historic low last September.)

The need to establish some sort of digital age ethical framework clearly resonated with Newmark. "I want to stand up for trustworthy journalism, and I want to stand against deceptive and fake news," Newmark said in a statement. "And I want to help news organizations stand and work together to protect themselves and the public against deception by the fake media."

Students of Newmark's philanthropy shouldn't be surprised by this gift. As previously noted, his philanthropy generally focuses on journalistic integrity, community building, net neutrality, veterans issues and education.

Newmark's gift further underscores the fact that Trump's election has been a boon for nonprofit news outlets. And assuming some Russian-engineered fake news item doesn't drive him from office within the next few weeks—wouldn't that be ironic?—it will surely be a fruitful four years for investigative journalists of all political stripes.

So I encourage you to keep your eye on funders like Newmark, who, in addition to caring about journalistic integrity, is also the largest stakeholder of the privately held Craigslist, which reportedly had 2015 profits of some $300 million.

It makes sense the tech philanthropists would play a role in helping to clean up the problem of fake news, given that such news is spread through channels that techies have helped created. 

Meanwhile, don't forget about the Knight Foundation, which also rose to the fake news challenge with a special fund of $1.5 million to match grants made to nonprofit news organization and thus help them capitalize on public concern that we're entering a scary post-truth era.

RelatedInside the Knight Foundation's Push to Give Nonprofit Journalism a Boost at a Critical Moment