What's So Interesting About the Dodge Foundation's Recent Digital Journalism Grant To Rutgers?

It's always gratifying when a big-time funder reads one of my posts and then promptly accedes to my demands.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece entitled "New Campus Art Center Vs. Big-Time Athletics: A Study in Contrasts." It juxtaposed how the Denver-based Boettcher Foundation awarded a $175,000 grant to support the construction of the new Ent Center for the Arts at UC Colorado Springs versus Rutgers University's well-publicized financial woes, which have been compounded by a big-time athletic program that is hemorrhaging money (big time).

I concluded the post with a simple request: "As for Rutgers, the university library had its budget cut by $500,000. Sorry kids. Perhaps the Boettcher Foundation—or maybe even a NJ-based foundation—has a little spare change rattling around in the sofas?"

The hyperlinked "NJ-based foundation" was the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and guess what? It got the memo. Right on cue, Dodge awarded a grant to Rutgers Law, providing the school with valuable legal guidance on newsgathering issues, thereby "making digital journalism in the Garden State more manageable."

"I’m very excited to be part of the Dodge Foundation’s work on sharpening and deepening local journalism in New Jersey. New initiatives focusing on data journalism and digital platforms are abounding, and we’re looking at a real renaissance in reporting," says Ellen Goodman, co-director of the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy and Law.

The grant, which comes from the Dodge Foundation's journalism sustainability project with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is particularly interesting,  because it focuses on an area—legal guidance—that doesn't get much press (pun intended). But it makes perfect sense. The Wild West of digital journalism, replete with citizen-hackers, Edward Snowdens, and social media, needs a sheriff to roll into town and establish order (and prevent costly lawsuits).

It's all uncharted legal territory—a challenge that isn't lost on Goodman. "Digital journalists lack access to legal guidance," she noted. "They are running into tough and cutting edge questions about privacy, access, user-generated content, etc. As researchers, we can’t provide legal advice, but we can offer general guidance on how the law is evolving in these areas."

Working with Rutgers students, Goodman will be conducting research on the frequently asked questions of New Jersey digital journalists with respect to their legal rights and responsibilities in the news gathering process, addressing issues such as defamation, privacy, social media, access to government records, and the use of new technologies like drones.

It's important stuff.

And as for foundations bowing to my philanthropic demands in the future? I think I'm just going to savor this one for a while. After all, as my editor told me when I accepted this job, "With great power comes great responsibility."