Most Outstanding Journalism Article of 2019 Co-authored by CDCS Research Cluster Lead

Screenshot of Kate Wright, Mel Bunce and Martin Scott on a video call
Screenshot courtesy of Kate Wright

A research paper co-authored by Dr Kate Wright, who leads the CDCS Media & Communications research cluster, has been named as the most outstanding article published internationally on journalism in 2019.

The article, ‘Foundation funding and the boundaries of journalism’, has won the 2020 Wolfgang Donsbach Award, presented by the Journalism division of the International Communication Association. The article demonstrates how funding by private foundations inadvertently changes the international journalism it supports.

The study was lead-authored by Dr Martin Scott of UEA’s School of International Development, together with Dr Mel Bunce from City, University of London, and Dr Kate Wright, who is the academic lead of the CDCS Media & Communications research cluster at the University of Edinburgh. The article is based on a five-year research project, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Board and the Independent Social Research Foundation.

Published in the journal Journalism Studies, 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.

Dr Scott said:

The current coronavirus makes it even more important to understand the relationship between journalists and foundations. 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.

Dr Wright said:

This research shows that although foundation funding is crucial to the survival of many forms of non-profit journalism, journalists and funders need to be more aware of the unintended consequences of their actions.

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.