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New Report: A Growing Gap in Philanthropic Support for Newsroom Diversity

By Lea Trusty / 2018 June 19th

Journalism has long struggled to reflect the diversity of the communities it serves, and over the past decade, most efforts to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in news outlets have been unsuccessful in creating meaningful change within the stories, sources, and staff of newsrooms across the United States.

New research released today by Democracy Fund traces half a decade of philanthropic investment in organizations, programming, and research aimed at increasing DEI in journalism. We commissioned this report to learn from the important work undertaken up to this point, to guide our future investments, and to spark discussions across philanthropy regarding the urgent need to address these challenges with significant new resources.


This report is based on data from the Foundation Maps for Media Funding, created by the Foundation Center for Media Impact Funders. The data set has some important limitations due to the nature of self-reporting and challenges around how grants are categorized. Even so, Katie Donnelly and Jessica Clark at Dot Connector Studio have done great work to reveal larger trends in the field.

From 2009 to 2015, $1.2 billion was invested in journalism, news and information in the U.S.
From 2009 to 2015, $1.2 billion was invested in journalism, news and information in the U.S.

Recent research by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard and Northeastern University, using the same Foundation Center data as well as a study of foundation 990 tax forms, found that there is simply not enough philanthropic dollars flowing into journalism to make up for the gaps in what has been lost from legacy newsrooms. Amongst the funding that does exist there are troubling gaps and disparities. Our report provides a deeper look at one of those gaps, showing that there are even fewer dollars are going to DEI efforts within the industry.

Here are a few interesting takeaways, according to data as of February 2018:From 2009 to 2015, there were 1,105 grants totaling $105.6 million from 274 funders to 294 recipients pertaining to either racial and ethnic groups, women and girls, or LGBTQI populations.

  • Funding has declined in these areas overall, both in terms of dollar value by $1.3 million and total number of grants by 18.
  • When it comes to funding that serves racial and ethnic groups, relatively few dollars go towards financial sustainability compared to programming and project-specific funding.
  • There has been significantly less investment in gender-related news and staffing compared to racial and ethnic groups.
  • Funding serving LGBTQI populations in journalism remains extremely limited.
Here’s a breakdown of philanthropic support strategies for funding DEI in journalism.
Here’s a breakdown of philanthropic support strategies for funding DEI in journalism.

The past efforts represented in these numbers faced stiff headwinds and real challenges, including a dramatic financial downturn that strained the news industry. But tight budgets alone cannot explain the persistent gap in employment opportunities between minorities and their white counterparts seeking jobs in journalism. Nor does it excuse the historic leadership failure of legacy outlets to fulfill their promise to diversify their ranks.

Reviewing this history, we are left with more questions than answers: How should we think about supporting programs and investigative projects looking at inequality when they may be housed at news outlets with a weak history of supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion internally? How do we rethink equitable funding so that program-specific funds at ethnic media outlets don’t exacerbate financial and structural uncertainty? And how do we ensure that investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion have broad and measurable impact across the industry?

Prior to this research we created a public database of organizations invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion in journalism, and we’ve got more research on the way that we hope will provide a better snapshot of the field of ethnic media and the challenges and opportunities facing those outlets.

Democracy Fund isn’t represented in the data released today because we only became an independent foundation in 2014. However, in our first few years we’ve prioritized this work. So far we are:

  • Working with News Integrity Initiative, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and Gates Foundation in diverse leadership training from the Maynard Institute;
  • Collaborating with Google News Initiative to help revamp the ASNE Diversity Survey led by Dr. Meredith Clark;
  • Investing in new models like City Bureau with the MacArthur Foundation
  • Partnering with funders like Knight Foundation and Open Society Foundations to support data training from the Ida B. Wells Society;
  • Co-funding the National Association of Black Journalists with the Ford Foundation;
  • Working alongside the Heising-Simons Foundation to support paid internships for aspiring journalists of color through the Emma Bowen Foundation.

Together with these funders, we are learning from the research we released today to ensure that our strategies are as effective and equitable as possible. We are committed to supporting innovations in engaged journalism through grantmaking, partnerships, and collaboration. This report is part of that commitment.

Questions about the report, or thoughts on what we should look into next? Please email us at EJLab@democracyfund.org.

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