Funding and Firewalls

May 17, 2012

One of the most popular requests for help on Newslink and PRNDI’s Facebook page recently has been in the area of Funders and Firewalls. People want to know how to fund their shows and positions without creating a conflict of interest.

A recent PRNDI Facebook page post from a News Director sought help to establish a policy for when the station mentions in a newscast that a subject of a news story is an underwriter. He asked, “Should you disclose and if so, when? Do you move the underwriter?” It’s been a long time since PRNDI tackled this subject so we’ve put together a panel Friday morning June 29th to help answer some of these questions.

As written in the new Code of Editorial Integrity for Local Public Media Organizations, “We strive to assure that our editorial process is free from undue influence. We take care in deciding from whom we seek and accept funds and in setting boundaries with respect to those who contribute.” But University of Oregon professor Alan Stivitsky and then NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin said in The 2004 Updated Guide for Public Radio Journalism, “The facts of life in public radio include the need to seek outside funding to pay for what we do. Money, of course, often comes with strings attached, whether explicit or implicit. Our challenge, then, is to obtain the funds we need, while keeping the funders from influencing our journalism.”

We’ll hear from two people who helped craft the white paper on “Funding and Firewalls” in the Code. John Van Hoesen is the Vice President for News and Programming at Vermont Public Radio and Sam Fleming is the Director of News and Programming at WBUR in Boston.

The writers advocate that all public media journalism avoid even the appearance of inappropriate influence involving underwriters, funders or community partners. This commitment applies across all content platforms, radio, television, print and online.

They propose two policy statements. One focuses on underwriting for general news programming. The second focuses on production funding for news specials.

1: Underwriting General News Programming

Public media should exercise careful consideration when deciding who can underwrite its news programming. In particular, stations should carefully assess potential underwriters whose agenda is designed to bring about a specific political outcome or to influence public policy on controversial matters.

2: Production Funding for News Specials

In general, individual news specials should not be funded by organizations that have a vested interest in the specific content covered in the program. This includes funding from for-profit, non-profit and governmental institutions.

Before the conference check out the white paper, see if your station has a policy or even a firewall and prepare some questions for our panelists.