21st Century Fox Enters the Journalism Innovation Fray. What's it Mean?

Whenever we talk about the future of journalism and the importance of dragging it into the 21st century, it always seems as if the people doing the heavy financial lifting are private foundations, most notably and recently the Knight Foundation. And like most philanthropic giving, the beneficiary of Knight's work isn't Knight itself, but traditional news outlets struggling to adapt to fast-paced technological changes.

And it's perhaps because foundations like Knight provide a reliable pipeline of funding for innovative journalism work that we rarely see shelled out by tens of thousands of dollars from the philanthropic arms of large media companies. With private foundations doing this heavy lifting, why bother?

Of course, this argument is a slightly reductive one. Every day, large news organizations, whether the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Guardian, are experimenting with new and exciting ways to engage readers. But once again, it's rare to find many instances in which such organizations—or, more specifically, their corporate parents' philanthropic arms—invest serious money for journalistic innovation in huge chunks.

All of which brings us to today's story, which finds Hampton University’s Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications the recipient of a $500,000 challenge grant from Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox. The funds will support activities inside the Scripps Howard School’s new Center for Innovation in Digital Media.

Now, if the school's center sounds familiar, it should. We took a look at it recently after—surprise!—Knight gave the school $245,000 to create a pilot program to help students "find new ways to relay information over digital platforms, including social media—reflecting the changing landscape of how people consume media content."

21st Century Fox's gift suggests a few things.

First, it's clearly pleased with the progress the school has made since Knight's initial gift. Second, rather than relying on private foundations to pick up the "innovation slack," Fox is aware that pushing journalism forward and reaching younger audiences is in their best financial interests.

And lastly, the gift may foreshadow things to come for the Murdoch-owned media giant. As we note in our funder profile on Rupert's son James, the Murdoch family's primary philanthropic funding areas have been the environment, community development, and health. The gift to Scripps represents a subtle, but not insignificant, development.