Did the philanthropy beat disappear?

You would think major media outlets might have someone focused on philanthropy, a reporter who can read 990s and spot new trends. Instead, The New York Times eliminated the philanthropy beat, one of the last daily newspapers to employ a full-time reporter to cover national nonprofits, according to a piece in the Chronicle of Philanthrophy.

We’re interested in this new developement with philanthropy and religion sometimes going hand in hand, since religious organizations fill a decent chunk of the philanthropic landscape. As editors have promised in the past with the religion beat, the paper promises to cover philanthropy more across the board.

Stephanie Yera, a spokeswoman for the New York Times Company, said the newspaper would still cover philanthropy-related stories “across news desks.”

For example, she noted that this week Eric Lichtblau wrote an article about a lawsuit over control of the Cato Institute that appeared on the newspaper’s front page. She also noted in an e-mail that “our culture and education desks are regularly churning out stories about philanthropy and nonprofits.”

Sure, newspapers have to prioritize its time and attention, but it seems strange to have entire desks devoted to politics and business and not one person covering philanthropy, demonstrating media outlet’s priorities, what they deem “important.” Of course, a culture or education story could include some sort of philanthropy element, but if a reporter isn’t focused on it, he or she probably won’t know how to spot something unusual. It seems odd that the beat wouldn’t be mentioned as naturally part of politics, since there seem to be so many angles about government partnerships and funding of religious charities (or controversies that lead to a split).

Online sites could pick up the slack, right? The report suggests that there’s a mixed bag when it comes to whether it’s fully replaced the previous print beats.

On the one hand, news Web sites, like the Huffington Post’s Impact page and The Washington Post’s On Giving section, offer more chances for charity leaders to share their perspectives. But hard news and journalism about the field, at least at the national level, seem to be dwindling along with newspaper budgets. … The Post has two reporters who cover local nonprofits on a part-time basis for its Capital Business section.

Reading the piece led me to some clicking around at the Chronicle of Philanthrophy‘s website, where I uncovered this potentially helpful blog “Rising Tithe” on religion and giving. A quick scan of the calendar, though, shows that it only survived a few months last summer. What a bummer. The religion page offers a decent starting point for archives, but it’s pretty much dead. Let us know if you know of other sources for religion and philanthropy news.

Back to The Times and whether its move signifies something larger: Is the philanthropy beat gone from general outlets? What are you seeing at your local outlets?

Philanthrophy image via Shutterstock.

Print Friendly

  • Mike O.

    Nowadays do a majority of acts of philanthropy that get covered start off by the organization(s) involved notifying the press instead of the press looking for stories? If so, does it happen that on a case-by-case basis they determine whether the story is worthy enough to send a reporter to cover it?

    Also aren’t there some (less than honorable) papers and television news teams that, in cases like this, just take whatever press release that’s handed to them and run with it?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    There might be some of that, but reporters in the know will dig deeper than a press release and figure out the story behind the money, so to speak. They hopefully for look for the motivation was behind a donation or something similar.

  • sari

    The Austin American Statesman has Andrea Ball, who covers charities and mental illness in the paper, as well as the paper’s charity chat. Arts organizations, which are also philanthropies (e.g., the opera, museums), are usually covered by the guy who handles social events. I can’t remember either of them ever taking. A religion angle.