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Foundations seen moving to boost journalism

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Charitable foundations are taking surprising steps to help address the crisis in the U.S. newspaper industry, and the CEO of the Knight Foundation believes several of the biggest U.S. foundations may “get into journalism funding in a significant way,” a new report says.

“I think it’s safe to say there’s growing understanding you can’t run a democracy without a free flow of information,” Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, says in a statement accompanying release of the report by the Center of Communication Leadership & Policy at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

The report, “Philanthropic Foundations: Growing Funders of the News,” is based on interviews with leaders from the foundations, journalism, education and nonprofits, and aims to address the growing crisis in the newspaper industry.

Major newspapers have closed, scrapped their print editions or filed for bankruptcy, and others face the threat of closing, the report says.

And tens of thousands of journalists have taken buyouts or been laid off.

While nearly three-dozen leaders who gathered in New York City in April 2008 “expressed caution about how big a role foundations could or should play in supporting journalism,” the report says, they also offered a menu of ideas for addressing the industry’s crisis.

Those ideas include the creation of new journalism arms at nonprofits; collaborations between foundations and for-profit news organizations; university investment in news businesses; and seed money for entirely new information enterprises.

“The worlds of foundations and philanthropy are being looked to in unprecedented ways to serve as a firewall against the disappearance of critical news and information,” the report says.

And while they cannot begin to provide the solution for the newspaper industry, a $35 billion-a-year enterprise even in its weakened state, foundations “to a surprising degree” are responding on multiple fronts, and “there are indications that a much more robust reaction may be in the works,” the report says.

“We’re extremely excited about the possibilities here,” Ibarguen, former publisher of the Miami Herald, says in the statement.

“Community foundations have billions and billions at their disposal,” he says. “We think more and more of them are going to find that information has become one of their community’s core needs.”

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