Clark Bell, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

TITLE: Senior Advisor

FUNDING AREAS: Democracy

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Bell says, "I see my role as giving people the chance." As the gatekeeper at the most venerable and wealthy journalism foundation serving the Chicago area and beyond, he is uniquely positioned to do exactly that. 

PROFILE: Clark Bell has a rich history as a reporter, editor, publisher and communications consultant, most notably in the healthcare field. Directly prior to joining the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in 2005, Bell was Managing Director at American Healthcare Solutions, developing communications strategies for hospitals, medical foundations and technology firms. He has also worked as publisher of Modern Physician and associate publisher of Modern Healthcare in recent years and still serves as chair of the advisory council of Northwestern Memorial Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness.

Bell's American Healthcare Solutions bio during his time there stated, "Bell has served as a keynote speaker at more than 100 healthcare conferences, seminars, and annual meetings, including 19 state hospital associations. He has moderated dozens of hospital board retreats and participated in five overseas trade missions. In 2001, he organized healthcare's first information technology outsourcing conference. Other marketing events Bell developed include a five-city HIPAA educational tour, the Medical Technology Forum, and the Chief Information Officer’s Forum."

Bell's healthcare experience is relevant not just because it's a rich source for reporting, but also for the model it represents in training its experts. Bell references the "Hospital Model," in which  students become residents at notable institutions, as an inspiration for training the next generation of journalists. "It's not the replica, but it carries over," he says.

To that end, in late 2013, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation announced a $1 million initiative (in consortium with the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Democracy Fund) to explore new ways of providing news and information, including  "live news experiments" that support the development of teaching hospital models in journalism education.

Bell's own journalistic background and training also includes serving as executive business editor for the Dallas Times Herald, as a business columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, as a consumer affairs reporter for the Chicago Daily News and as a sports writer at the Des Moines Register.So he's pretty much seen it all, and is well positioned to speak to the Robert R. McCormick Foundation's current mandate:

"Today it's all about growing an audience. It's about news literacy. It's about education and training in a new field. So we've changed our scope of focus. And I think that most of the foundations that do active journalism work have gone down that route. . . But there aren't many of us."

 

Bell articulates the foundation's three current targeted areas of impact:

  • News Literacy: Especially in schools (for all ages); McCormick's definition of news literacy is "information skills for the 21st century."
  • Education Training: From high school through mid-career advancement.
  • Accountability & Transparency in Governments: Using freedom of the press and first amendment rights as a "launching point" for ensuring government accountability.

The vast majority of McCormick's journalism grants serve the Chicago area (even when the institutions it funds operate outside of the city). It's informative (and inspiring) to take a look at the foundation's own grant database to get the full scope of its support, but here are some recent highlights:

  • $250,000 to the Big Shoulders Fund (Chicago) for improving high school news literacy in Chicago inner-city Catholic schools through empowering an educated, analytical audience and creating new media;
  • $50,000 to Echoing Green (NYC) to work with Chicago high schools on writing fact-based opinion pieces;
  • $250,000 over 2 years to Youth Guidance (Chicago) in support of news literacy skill-building activities in Chicago Public Schools;
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  • $1 million over 2 years to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism (Evanston, IL) in continued support of the National Security Journalism Initiative.

With an annual grantmaking budget of about $6 million in this arena, Bell has a lot to give, and is inspired to find talented, focused institutions on which to bestow his and the foundation's goals and vision.

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