A research paper led by a University of East Anglia academic has been named as the best peer reviewed article published internationally on journalism in 2019.
The article, ‘Foundation funding and the boundaries of journalism’, has won the 2020 Wolfgang Donsbach Outstanding Article of the Year Award. It reports the findings of a study looking at how funding by private foundations is inadvertently changing the international journalism it supports.
The study was conducted by Dr Martin Scott of UEA’s School of International Development, Dr Mel Bunce from City, University of London, and Dr Kate Wright at the University of Edinburgh
Published in the journal Journalism Studies in 2019, the researchers found that journalists change the ways they understand, value and carry out their work when supported by organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
The authors conclude that foundation funding unintentionally reshapes international journalism to favour outcome-oriented, explanatory reporting in a small number of niche subject areas.
The award committee said the article demonstrates that while there is a lot of optimism surrounding non-profit funding models, this path has “its own unique perils”.
Dr Scott said the current coronavirus crisis made it even more important to understand the relationship between journalists and foundations: “The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the survival of news organisations around the world, even potentially triggering a 'media extinction event' in many countries.
“In response, financial support for journalism by private foundations and others is being mobilised at an unprecedented scale. We hope this research can help to ensure this support is as effective as possible, at this crucial time.”
To qualify for the award, articles must have been published in English language peer-reviewed journals and have made a substantial contribution to the understanding of the ever-changing role of journalism in societies.
Chair of the committee, Dr Matt Carlson, said: “The nuanced picture that emerges is that of journalists shaping their practices to meet both the spoken and tacit demands of their sponsors. The authors connect this to deeper issues of journalistic autonomy in ways that improve our appreciation of how all journalistic practice is contingent on structural forces that ultimately shape what news looks like.
“This study provides an excellent basis for future research on the economics of news, boundary work, and conceptualizations of journalistic autonomy.”
The award is presented by the Journalism Studies Division of the International Communication Association (ICA), and was announced during its conference in Australia.