Hearst's Circuitous Support of Journalism

If you're here for journalism, then the name William Randolph Hearst likely looms large. The philanthropic entities he founded, the Hearst Foundations, are meant to “ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive, and inspiring lives.”

Journalism can of course fit in nicely with that. But here's the twist: the foundations explicitly state that they do not fund "organizations involved in publishing, radio, film, or television."

Here's the double-twist: They actually do.

First, to clear up why they are the Hearst Foundations, plural: Technically speaking, William Randolph Hearst established an east coast foundation in 1945 and a west coast foundation in 1948. Their missions were (and remain) the same, as are the granting stipulations. Whether your organization resides east or west of the Mississippi River is the only difference.

Regardless of what side of the Mississippi you're on, these foundations do support journalism-related enterprises, even when they say they don't. It's likely a matter of how these programs do (and don't) relate to the direct act of creating product.

The Hearst Foundations have four giving areas: Culture, Education, Health and Social Service. Recent grantees related to journalism primarily show up in the Education area. This includes post-secondary journalism scholarship programs in the Hearst name, but there are many other recent examples too, including grants to organizations that unquestionably produce journalism.

Across the board, the foundations are looking to support underserved communities, but are also looking to do so with a large footprint: they want to fund organizations that serve “large demographic and/or geographic constituencies.” They also state as their priority organizations that “enable engagement by young people and create a lasting impression.” Engagement of "young people" here relates not only to serving children, but also the foundations' desire to fund post-secondary opportunities and professional development. All of these versions of the engagement of young people express themselves in recent grantees related to journalism.

As comes with a desire to partner with organizations that have a big footprint, the Hearst Foundations expect you to have a big budget. No one with less than $1 million in annual operations is eligible to apply, and the averages are considerably higher (though they vary across the four giving sectors).

And no matter which of the four sectors your program lands, the Hearst Foundations want it to differentiate itself from its peers—not just in approach, but also in terms of results. They also place importance on results by expecting “evidence of sustainability” for programs beyond their own support of them. They regularly give both program and—more notably—capital support (and a limited amount of general and endowment support) to 501(c)3 groups.

Here's a recent sampling of grantees involved in journalism:


  • $300,000 to Columbia University (New York, NY) "toward current-use scholarships for students in data and digital journalism
  • $200,000 to University of California Berkeley (Berkeley, CA) "to provide fellowships over three years for students enrolled in the Graduate School of Journalism"
  • $150,000 to Florida International University (Miami, FL) "to expand the existing School of Journalism and Mass Communication South Florida News Service"
  • $150,000 to Youth Radio (Oakland, CA) "to expand the capacity of a national network of media and technology education programs"
  • $150,000 to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC) "to support the Center for Media Law and Policy Summit, research, and public events"
  • $150,000 to The New School (New York, NY) "to provide scholarships to undergraduate students pursing a major or minor in Journalism + Design at Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts"
  • $100,000 to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council (Washington, DC) "to support History Unfolded: Local News Reports on the Holocaust, a three-year research project for high school and university students"
  • $100,000 to Unversity of Florida (Gainesville, FL) "toward the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications’ new Strategic Communication Agency and Millennial Research Core"
  • $75,000 to The News Literacy Project (Bethesda, MD) "to support the expansion of News Literacy Project nationally"
  • $75,000 to University of North Texas (Denton, TX) "to provide scholarship support for first-generation undergraduate journalism students."


  • $200,000 to University of Kansas, Lawrence (Lawrence, KS) "to support the development of media tools designed to increase access and recruitment of underserved populations to cancer clinical trials."

So where does this leave you and your journalism program? You should probably start by contacting the foundations to have a frank conversation about their stated limitations versus the realities of their giving.

If you're happy with what you hear, remarkably for a funder playing on such a large field, the Hearst Foundations has an open online application process. They do, however, alert potential new applicants that 80 percent of their funding goes to previous recipients. On the flipside of this daunting statistic, if you do make the cut for initial funding through the Hearst Foundations, the odds are in your favor that you’ll continue receiving it. But you’ll have to wait at least three years until that happens; the foundations stipulate that as the “waiting period” between grants.


Hearst Foundations: Grants for Diseases

Hearst Foundations: Grants for Higher Education