Discover more from THE FIREBREAK
The Guardian: Between Grace and Greed
The Bleeding Edge of Media Activism
The Firebreak recently ran a memorial for the mainstream media, showing how the economic model had shifted, affecting the viability or objectivity of most large newsprint organizations. One of the survival solutions was to transform newsgroups into a type of non-profit, seeking donations to fund independent journalism.
In 2017, The Guardian created theguardian.org, a charity wing to fund news stories in The Guardian along the same lines as NGOs fund campaigns. Skeptics would argue that they are taking donations in exchange for ink and this became evident after a public outcry when they applied for and received a large donation from an animal rights-focused foundation, Open Philanthropy, in exchange for multiple stories against livestock farming. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Guardian became experts in selling their soul and auctioning off journalistic integrity to whomever would write them a check. A simple scan of their website showed 52 donations totalling at least $20,249,000 collected in the last five years. The average donation is around $400,000. Most of it was earmarked for stories on:
Environmental justice and food security: $1,750,000
The Age of Extinction: $1,500,000
Biodiversity loss: $1,400,000
Factory livestock farming: $2,236,000
Oceans and climate: $1,600,000
Gun violence: $1,000,000
Some of the foundations come across as activist-driven and see any grant to The Guardian as a means to advance their campaigns (like The California Wellness Foundation). A few grants are open-ended or imprecise. One curious case was the Leona and Harry Helmsley Charitable Trust (remember the abusive, tax-evading Queen of Mean who left $12 million to her dog). This group gave The Guardian $1,500,000 for articles on non-communicable diseases which I assume means tobacco, alcohol and processed foods.
But that is only half of the story, it seems. I found articles on The Guardian pages on Big Oil financed by The Rockefeller Brothers Foundation that was not mentioned on their funding page, nor contributions from the Ford Foundation and other groups, nor their entire Australian funding program...
It should be noted that these are not alms kindly donated to some struggling media group trying to be good social actors. Every donation follows from an extensive application process where The Guardian must prove to be adding value in line with the foundation’s objectives. Successful grants usually involve a lot of glad-handing of members of foundation boards.
So how does this work? They seem to suggest that editors at The Guardian bid for funding from theguardian.org to run stories or do research:
The organisation raises funds from individuals and foundations, and directs them towards projects that advance public discourse and citizen participation on issues such as climate change, human rights, global development and inequality. The Guardian is able to apply for grants from theguardian.org for editorial projects that correspond with the priorities set out by theguardian.org’s board of directors, and that are aligned with its charitable mission, which is why a number of the Guardian’s philanthropic partnerships are via grants to this organisation.
But does that imply that they can only cover news on issues where funding is available? The Guardian receives a lot of foundation money tied to biodiversity loss and climate change so perhaps that helps explain how these stories dominate the news. They didn’t get money to spill ink on the mining or chemical industries so these issues seem to have been given a free pass.
There are some transparency issues as well. The Guardian claimed in a large graphic that the Society for Environmental Journalists had contributed $680,000 since 2017. This got a raised eyebrow since the last time I attended an SEJ event, everyone paid for their own coffee. Elsewhere, hidden in a text blob, they acknowledged that this contribution came from the Fund for Environmental Journalism and that those costs were in fact underwritten by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
My head is spinning.
The best I can conclude is that the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation gave more than $110,000 per year to environmental journalists to write articles that The Guardian could then publish in their name. Assuming $5000 is a generous contribution to a freelancer, that would imply that at least 22 articles a year go to The Guardian without any cost or input by the newsgroup (unless all of it went into a George Monbiot movie).
There is so much we don’t know here. Would a freelance journalist be able to sell an idea to a foundation, secure funding, and then take it to The Guardian to run as a story. Could a foundation or trust earmark an article themselves that furthers their interests? I noticed how the Extinction Rebellion movement quickly rose to prominence with active support and front-page coverage in The Guardian, with their journalist, George Monbiot, taking on a quasi-leadership role in the leaderless “revolution”. Was this funded by foundation money or was the journalist’s activism in part to secure further funding opportunities?
How can these media mercenaries be considered as journalists? How can The Guardian continue to be considered as a journalistic entity when they are basically working on stories only when activist interest groups hire (pay) them? And how does this affect their objectivity?
The Guardian claims they accept the money so they “can continue to produce quality, independent journalism in the public interest.” I am not sure how they can square that while a cool 20 million is earning interest.
This is not quality, independent journalism and any reader who opens The Guardian is delusional if they buy that.