Donors Go Retro: The Well-Funded Program Committed to "Longform" Nonfiction

One of the perks of writing at Inside Philanthropy is seeing a program grow up before your eyes, particularly one with a unique mission like that of the Logan Nonfiction Program.

The Nonfiction Program at the Carey Institute for Global Good was established in 2015 to support nonfiction writers and filmmakers at a time when funding for longform work was dwindling. Towards the end of that year, the institute announced $200,000 in new support thanks to a Reva and David Logan Foundation $100,000 challenge grant that was matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Approximately a year later the institute received a $1 million long-term grant from the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation of Berkeley, California. In recognition of this major milestone, the program was renamed the Logan Nonfiction Program.

The program was (and still is) certainly attuned to the Zeitgeist of the times. Its 2015 gift came at a time in which donors were increasingly turning towards outlets committed to in-depth journalism in an age of Twitter. The Logan naming gift, meanwhile, doubled down on the institute's work. Commenting on gift at the time, Chairman Jonathan Logan extolled, "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."

Yet if the burgeoning field of journalism philanthropy tells us anything, it's that the very definition of "journalist" is a relative thing. As I previously noted in a post looking at a gift to fight fake news from the charitable organization established by Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark:

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. 

And yet a more traditional vision of the deep, nuanced journalistic dive is alive and well for Logan Nonfiction Program fellows. According to the institute, fellows will be working on a broad spectrum of projects that will, when finished, become books, long-form investigative journalism articles and documentary films. Fellows are provided meals, work space, mentorship and lodging on the Carey Institute’s historic 100-acre campus in the upstate New York village of Rensselaerville. A fellow’s duration of stay may range from four weeks to three months.

The only missing piece in the Logan Nonfiction Program narrative is what, precisely, the program considers journalists, non-fiction writers, and filmmakers. For an answer, we turn to the program's spring class of 20 fellows.

You can check out the full roster here, which includes BBC war correspondent and producer Paul Wood, Harper’s Magazine contributing editor Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, and the acclaimed New Zealand writer Joanne Drayton. According to the institute, they will be joining other fellows reporting on a diverse range of topics that include an investigation into the complexities and failure of U.S. terrorist detainee policy, a memoir of a journalist kidnapped by Somali pirates, and a personal investigation by the son of a man killed in the Mexican narco wars.

At the expense of painting the class with a broad brush, you won't find many anarco- citizen- hacker-journalists armed with smart phones and a thin resume among this cohort. (Not that there's anything wrong with hacker-journalists.) The program is firmly rooted in the world of old-school, deeply reported journalism, and its experienced and highly acclaimed fellows reflect this ethos.

As for the new phase in the program's figurative adolescence? I predict a growth spurt. With the nonprofit journalism field experiencing a surge in support in the wake of Donald Trump's election, I expect funders will continue to support this kind of work across the next four years.

We've seen what happens in a world shaped by Tweets.