Foundation-funded journalism, philanthrocapitalism and tainted donors

Kate Wright (Lead Author), Martin Scott, Melanie Bunce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Not-for-profit news organisations are increasingly funded by private foundations, supported by wealthy entrepreneurs. This raises a range of ethical dilemmas for journalists, which are particularly serious when their donors are alleged to have been involved in unethical or illegal activities. Although this is a relatively common occurrence in the non-profit sector, so far there has been no critical discussion of these issues in relation to foundation-funded journalism. In this article, we interrogate a rich and detailed case study of the relations between a non-profit news organisation and a donor accused of being involved in a massive, international fraud scandal. We document how the news outlet justified their acceptance of this donor’s money; the defensive strategies they used to protect their reputation, organisational values and editorial freedom; and the conditions that ultimately led to journalists parting ways with the foundation. In so doing, we draw on ideas about philanthrocapitalism, stakeholders and resource dependence in order to develop model of how nonprofits respond to “tainted” donors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)675-695
Number of pages21
JournalJournalism Studies
Issue number5
Early online date4 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2019


  • 1MDB
  • donor
  • ethics
  • foundation
  • humanitarian
  • managers
  • news
  • non-profit

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