In the world of niche philanthropy, it can often take a few years for a donor to consolidate his or her position around a specific cause. Chalk up another piece of conventional wisdom obliterated by the election of Donald Trump.
Less than three months after Craig Newark's foundation gave $1 million to the Poynter Institute to combat "fake news," the founder and largest stakeholder of the privately held Craigslist has struck again with a similar gift.
The Craig Newmark Foundation announced a $1 million grant to ProPublica, the independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. The unrestricted grant will allow ProPublica to "deploy resources and address opportunities, including adding staff, where they are most needed over a wide range of issues in the public interest."
In making the gift, Newmark said: "A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy. As citizens we can only make informed decisions when we have news we can trust. Independent investigative reporting is essential to shoot down false claims and expose bad actors."
Newmark implicitly points to Trump's election as the impetus behind his three-month giving spree, noting, "I've been supporting and talking about the need for trustworthy journalism for years. But now there's a new normal in journalism. It's a media environment where really nasty gossip, lies and deception have the business advantage, and where a lot of traditional news organizations are on the ropes. So we need to redouble our efforts to support the good guys."
Fake news is very much a product of a clickbait internet economy, where outrageous headlines translate into eyeballs, which translate into advertising dollars. This is a dark side of the same World Wide Web that made Craig Newmark wildly rich, so it makes sense that he's now giving to counter the threat posed by fake news. Meanwhile, the more familiar reasons to bolster investigative journalism feel more urgent than ever with Trump's election.
Indeed, Newmark's gift to ProPublica seems less about helping organizations determine what's "fake" and what's "real" and instead, providing outfits like this—the "good guys"—with the financial security to dig deep and hit hard, the way that well-resourced media institutions are supposed to. With each passing day, it's becoming clearer that Trump's Washington is an unusually target-rich environment for muckraking journalists, although ProPublica's investigative reporting also looks far beyond the nation's capital, digging into local governments and different industries.
ProPublica is in a better position to undertake such reporting than ever. In 2014 and in 2015, it raised nearly $13 million each year from foundations and individuals. Last year, it raised nearly $17 million, including more than $2 million in online donations from thousands of contributors. It has also won a raft of prestigious journalism awards in recent years. Newmark's gift helps to further fortify this strong position.
Newmark isn't alone in his efforts to bolster nonprofit journalism at a critical moment. The Knight Foundation, for example, also rose to the challenge with a special fund of $1.5 million to match grants made to nonprofit news organization and thus help them capitalize on public concern that we're entering a scary post-truth era.
Knight, of course, is a large institutional grantmaker with a broad swath of interests. Newmark's foundation, on the other hand, is a far leaner operation, which makes it more flexible and moving forward, potentially more impactful in bolstering journalism. And if the last three months are any indication, that's likely to remain a focus of Newmark's philanthropy.
"As a news consumer, I won't pay for news I can't trust," said Newmark. "But when it comes to news I can trust, I'm putting my money where my mouth is."