A million-dollar gift to journalism, without ties, and the reason for that

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Newmark’s gift to Mother Jones follows threats to journalism, factual information

Craig Newmark, Craigslist founder and head of Craig Newmark Philanthropies, has been on a roll in supporting journalism and journalism education.

This morning, he’s giving $1 million to Mother Jones, hoping to boost the investigative outlet’s ability to combat disinformation campaigns against the American people.

The unrestricted gift follows Newmark donations to ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, the Columbia Journalism Review and the university’s Tow Center, Wikimedia and The Ground Truth Project, among others. (Disclosure: The Poynter Institute also has received Newmark grants.)

Journalists, he says, have been key in defending the country from a new type of warfare from its enemies, such as the hacking and disinformation campaigns that plagued the 2016 presidential election and threaten this November’s midterms.

“Publications like Mother Jones do a good job of fighting it, and I thought with more resources, they would do an even better job,” Newmark says by telephone.

Newmark’s theory on funding is to create a multiplier effect to do good, funding people and organizations with solid track records. “I want to help journalists hit a tipping point where they get tired of the misinformation and fight back,” he says.

Craig Newmark
Craig Newmark (Photo/Bleacher+Everard)

Like most donors, he hopes for social impact, but he recognizes that too heavy a hand on targeting his grant could change the mission of a donor and an obsession with metrics could actually reduce the effectiveness of the grant.

The language of the gift is roughly “put the money to use wherever it’s needed the most,” says Mother Jones publisher Steve Katz. “It’s amazing to be given a gift of this size and be given this latitude.”

Some of the investment will be spent on improving investigative reporting, data journalism and covering disinformation, says Katz. More will go toward engaging audiences and asking for their help in, for example, what’s in their social feeds, says CEO Monika Bauerlein.

Readers have asked Mother Jones for help in determining misinformation, to read and interpret news and sourcing “the way a journalist would,” Bauerlein says.

Newmark’s gift is part of a Mother Jones drive with an aspirational goal of $25 million to transform the way it is trying to protect democracy and cover the news. Katz says Mother Jones has already received commitments of $20 million.

The drive, which began in 2016, is one of the first of news nonprofits outside public media that asks its supporters to consider a valued news source as more than a transaction investment, Katz says. At some point, the light flips on with donors, Katz says, and they understand “you’re asking me to think about journalism as a public good, like the university I went to or the hospital in our town. It changes the way of thinking not just for Mother Jones, but journalism for general.” (Disclosure: Your morning media columnist also writes a weekly news roundup for Mother Jones.)

Both Katz and Bauerlein see opportunities for local news outlets to approach their communities to help fund them the same way. One California publication, Berkeleyside, has used the “public good” approach in selling shares to community members, and the publisher of four weeklies in Sonoma County is planning the same.

Quick hits

NOT INVITED: President Donald Trump to Senator John McCain’s funeral, as per McCain's wishes. McCain’s death Saturday received round-the-clock coverage on news networks over the weekend. Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama will eulogize the Arizona Republican and war hero at his funeral at the National Cathedral. The Washington Post reported that Trump rejected a proposal by White House aides to issue a release praising McCain and his heroism.

HIGH IMPACT: That’s what Margaret Sullivan said the anti-Clinton and pro-Trump covers of the National Enquirer had in the months leading up to the 2016 election. "The National Enquirer, rather you read it or not, you saw it," Sullivan told CNN’s Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday. One cover before the 2016 election, Sullivan noted, said "Hillary: Corrupt! Racist! Criminal!" Now the company’s chief, who has received immunity to testify about hush money and stories killed in a secret alliance with Trump, may be a key factor in Trump's undoing, Sullivan writes. 

LEAVING ESPN: Jemele Hill, a 12-year ESPN veteran and this year’s NABJ Journalist of the Year, is leaving the sports network on Sept. 1 in a buyout, Sports Illustrated reported. Hill was suspended last October for two weeks for tweets calling for an advertiser boycott of the Dallas Cowboys owner after the owner threatened to bench players who didn’t stand for the national anthem.

THE BANE OF THEIR RESISTANCE: That’s the title of Ian Parker’s New Yorker profile of Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, who is trying to work on his combativeness but says he will not bow to lockstep thinking about Trump, Russia or privacy. "I could go online and denounce Trump all day, and life would be easier and more relaxing," Greenwald says.

A LITTLE LATE: Volunteers on Reddit alerted the social network to Iranian disinformation starting in July 2017. Only in recent weeks, after similar moves by Facebook and Twitter, did Reddit begin to delete some user accounts found to have pushed the Iranian disinformation, reported NBC News’ Ben Collins.

HOLLYWOOD REINFORCEMENTS: OZY has signed with United Talent Agency to accelerate growth in TV, video and podcasts. It is just the latest media company to seek more muscle to build new revenue streams in Hollywood or on the stage.

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