In this issue of Philanthropy, you’ll read stories about how donors are seeking many ways to bolster news reporting today—at a moment in history when managers of the industry are finding it hard to make ends meet. But in decades past journalism bestowed many a fortune on newspapermen and publishers, and today some of those fortunes are being recycled back into efforts to strengthen journalism and improve its craft. Three examples follow. Other press-derived charitable endowments funneling money into the media include the Robert R. McCormick, Donald W. Reynolds, Patterson, Park, and Triad foundations.
Digital Knights to the rescue
John and James Knight were not only brothers but also highly compatible business partners. “My uncle was the consummate editor, and my father was the nuts and bolts man,” says Marjorie Knight Crane, James’s daughter. The two men transformed the Ohio newspaper they inherited from their father in 1933 into a multimillion-dollar media empire known as Knight Ridder. They cared deeply about the field that made them wealthy.
“The Knight newspapers strive to meet the highest standards of journalism,” John told a group of businessmen in 1969. “We try to keep our news columns factual and unbiased, reserving our opinions for the editorial pages, where they belong.”
The brothers’ fortunes—and respect for the power of the press—today undergird the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has become a leader in philanthropic giving to journalism. The foundation has so far invested more than half a billion dollars in the field, funding everything from scholarships for aspiring reporters, to mid-career training, to nonprofit startups in new media. Its current focus is helping the struggling news industry find equilibrium in the digital era.
The Knight News Challenge, started in 2006, grants millions to innovators using electronic tools to make news sharing easier, as a way to improve government openness and public understanding. Past winners include the Oyez Project, which provides audio recordings of court arguments, transcripts, and summaries of complicated decisions, to make legal rulings more accessible to reporters and citizens.
The foundation’s support for innovation in journalism is something president Alberto Ibargüen thinks the Knight brothers would rally behind. “They believed so strongly in new technology that there is no doubt in my mind they would be at the forefront of experiments with digital media today,” he says. The brothers tried sending electronic facsimiles of newspapers to the homes of subscribers as early as 1947, and poured hefty sums into early versions of online news delivery in the early 1980s. “They were simply not afraid of change or of the future.”
Giving across generations
At age six, in turn-of-the-century Kansas, Eugene Collins Pulliam sold his first newspaper. Later, as a budding reporter, he nabbed one of his first scoops by sneaking onto an unlocked railroad car to interview William K. Vanderbilt.
Pulliam eventually purchased and ran more than 50 newspapers, including his flagships, the Indianapolis Star and the Arizona Republic. The magnate died in 1975, but that was not the end of family contributions to journalism. His son, Eugene Smith Pulliam, became publisher of the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis News. His granddaughter Myrta Pulliam won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 with a team of other reporters for a series on police corruption. Another granddaughter edited a local newspaper in Maine. His grandson writes a weekly column for the Star. Even some of his great-grandchildren now work in reporting (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, a correspondent for Religion News Service, appears on page 33).
In addition to continuing to work in journalism, family members have used philanthropy to enhance the field that made their patriarch so successful. In this they follow Eugene Collins himself, who set up a journalism scholarship at Ball State University, and paid for young foreign reporters to visit the United States. Pulliam’s grandchildren gave $5 million to support journalism studies at DePauw University, $5 million to the Newseum, and additional gifts to Butler University, Ball State University, and the Society of Professional Journalists (which their grandfather co-founded).
Granddaughter Myrta also helped start Investigative Reporters and Editors, a nonprofit aimed at improving the quality of watchdog reporting. Grandson Russ has given to the World Journalism Institute and the journalism program at Patrick Henry College. He thinks journalism and newspapers are growing even more ripe for philanthropic backing. “Higher education is not a business. There’s an element of philanthropy in it. I think journalism may go in that direction too, similar to a symphony.”
Relinking press and profit
Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger believed in the power of a free press. And he believed that the press had to make money in order to keep producing democracy-aiding journalism. So in his three decades as publisher of the New York Times, he expanded the paper’s advertising, diversified the company’s assets, and added new moneymaking feature sections to the Gray Lady.
It was this entrepreneurial spirit that his sisters, Marian, Ruth, and Judith, hoped to highlight when in 2005 they donated $8 million to journalistic projects to honor Arthur. Half of that went to create something entirely new and unique: a training program at Columbia University to give editors and media executives the business acumen they need to keep journalism profitable.
The Punch Sulzberger Program, as it is now called, offers selected fellows four weeks of intensive management classes at Columbia, followed by a year’s worth of one-on-one coaching from business experts. Fellows choose a “challenge” at their media company—a project requiring at least a year’s worth of work, but with attainable and measurable goals—and tackle it with the support of the program.
So far more than 130 leaders at news organizations from the Boston Globe to ABC News to the Associated Press have jumped at the chance to participate. Eight editors and executives at the Christian Science Monitor came to the program starting in 2008, with their newspaper losing money and surviving on subsidies from the Christian Science Church. Their publication set a daring goal: to become the first national newspaper to cut its daily printed product and become a “web-first” publication. In its latest fiscal year, the Monitor posted its best financial performance in more than half a century.
The Sulzberger program is “sort of like a mini MBA,” says Monitor editor Marshall Ingwerson. “It really made me jump in with both feet, and focus on…asking this journalistic enterprise to work as a business.” The paper is now on track to cut off church subsidies by 2017, he says, and the website has more than quintupled its traffic since the beginning of the program.