We Knew Trump Was Good For Nonprofit Journalism, But This Is Getting Ridiculous

Maybe it's been a bad year for American journalism writ large. But it's been a great past few months for nonprofit journalism, and things keep getting better.

As we've reported, the money for nonprofit news groups started to flow right after November 8. ProPublica netted $750,000 in online gifts post-election, eclipsing the total raised from small-dollar donors in all of 2015. New donations also flowed to the Center for Public Integrity, the Marshall Project, and NPR affiliates like WNYC. And in mid-December, the Knight Foundation stepped up to the plate, rolling out a $1.5 million initiative, Knight News Match.

Then came new gifts from Craig Newmark and other major donors worried about "fake news."

A couple of weeks ago, reporting on $12 million in new journalism grants by Omidyar-backed nonprofits, we published a post titled "It's Official: Donald Trump is the Best Thing That's Ever Happened to Nonprofit Journalism."

But no sooner had we written that piece, than news arrived that not one, but two funders—the Barr Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation—were allocating grants aimed at strengthening journalism.

The Barr Foundation, based in Boston, is mainly a regional funder, known for its longtime focus on education, the arts and climate change. Yet clearly this foundation has been rattled by recent events, like so many other funders.

Barr launched its new Special Initiative program in February "to respond to dramatic shifts in the national context, to increased polarization, and to growing concerns about equity and opportunity for vulnerable populations." As part of this initiative, it recently made $1.43 million in grants to seven journalism organizations.

Meanwhile, the Heising-Simons Foundation announced support for five journalism outlets: ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Future Media Group, and Northeastern University.

Heising-Simons "worked in close partnership" with the Barr Foundation in this effort, demonstrating—and I'm quoting the Heising-Simons press release here—"how foundations can share knowledge, partner constructively to advance a common agenda, and minimize the amount of work required of our grantees."

Heising-Simons' new round of journalism grants are less surprising than Barr's foray into this area for at least two reasons. One, this funder is no stranger to journalism grantmaking, giving past funding "to media organizations working on issues related to our program areas," it explained. Those five program areas include climate change, education, and science. 

Second, the Heising-Simons Foundation is more forward-leaning in its politics. Its co-founders, Liz Simons and Mark Heising, were top Democratic donors in the 2016 election cycle, and some of its policy work is quite progressive. It almost goes without saying that this couple would be flipped out by Trump's rise and the factors behind it, including the emergence of a powerful disinformation apparatus on the far right.

The recent round of journalism grants will flow through Heising-Simons' "special opportunities" grantmaking portfolio, which falls under its Community program area.

"Special opportunities" include supporting organizations of "special interest" to the board or president and CEO, as well as areas that fall outside of the foundation’s primary programs, such as firearms violence prevention, emergency response grantmaking, and—you guessed it—journalism.

As we've said before, Heising-Simons is one of the more important new foundations to keep an eye on. There's a lot of money here, along with a lot of energy and ambition. This funder's latest grants underscore that point.

Recent moves suggest that Trump is moderating some of his views after a crash course in how national policy actually works. If this trend continues, and Trump's presidency becomes normalized, we could see a falloff in emergency funding initiatives, including for journalism.

For the time being, though, the Trump Effect keeps bringing a stream of new grants to nonprofits journalism outlets.