Philanthropic Funding for Investigative Journalism

The Huffington Post has announced the formation of a $1.75 million fund to finance investigative reporting that will be conducted by its staff and freelancers.    The site described it:

“The Huffington Post said Sunday that it will bankroll a group of investigative journalists, directing them at first to look at stories about the nation’s economy.

“The popular Web site is collaborating with The Atlantic Philanthropies and other donors to launch the Huffington Post Investigative Fund with an initial budget of $1.75 million. That should be enough for 10 staff journalists who will primarily coordinate stories with freelancers, said Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

“Work that the journalists produce will be available for any publication or Web site to use at the same time it is posted on The Huffington Post, she said.

Arianna Huffington’s announcement is here.

Jeff Jarvis, blogger at buzzmachine.com, a seeker of innovation to sustain journalism and a contributor to HuffPost had this observation:

“This, I’ve long held, is where foundation and public support will enter into the new ecosystem of journalism: not by taking over newspapers but by funding investigations and other slices of a new journalistic pie.

“… Now to touch the third rail in the debate over the future of news: This is how paid content will work … by setting up systems to take advantage of the 1 percent rule online that decrees you need only a limited number of contributors (of money or effort) to support great things in a gift economy. See: Wikipedia and NPR.”

This may well be a decent bridge financing structure for sustaining the news.  It will prove more difficult in local markets.  It is a commitment of decent enough size and duration to evaluate and perhaps expand on, but the sustainability of the 1 percent solution is very questionable.

My questions on any of these alternative structures is how they will sustain or strengthen the protections that have been assured primarily by the existence and legal departments of the institutions producing the news.   What is the liability between Huffington, the funders of this venture and the reporters who will produce the news product?   Who asserts 1st amendment protection when one of these stories is challenged.   I rarely see any discussion of this topic, but it is central to securing the profession.

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