What does Seattle Times think of Gates Foundation funding media?

The Seattle Times’ Sandi Doughton and Kristi Heim report on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s practice of paying media organizations to report on matters of global health.

It’s a good overview. I’ve also written loads about this for Humanosphere, some of which you can read about here and here.

The Seattle Times asks “Does Gates Foundation funding of media taint objectivity?

The foundation’s grants to media organizations such as ABC and The Guardian, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, raise obvious conflict-of-interest questions: How can reporting be unbiased when a major player holds the purse strings?

Good question!

But, spoiler alert, the Seattle Times doesn’t answer its own question.

I assume that they felt to do so would taint the newspaper’s claim of journalistic objectivity. The story instead presents a number of people who variously think that Gates funding of media is good, some who think it is bad and some who seem to think it is no big deal.

But what does the Seattle Times think?

Isn’t it kind of weird for the newspaper (which, in fact, has taken Gates money for another reporting project) to claim it has no position on whether or not this practice is good or bad for journalism?

Would the Times again accept funding from Gates? Why or why not?

This tendency for media organizations to avoid self-analysis, which often manifests itself by refusing to ask the most obvious questions, is a chronic problem.

I’ve always said in my long and tortured career as first a newspaper journalist and now an NPR blogger-reporter-news curator for KPLU that only journalists believe journalists are objective.

Most regular people believe, correctly, that journalists have personal opinions and biases. Of course they do. Many also believe that news organizations, however much they struggle to present all sides, can’t help but report the news based on their institutional biases.

Do the New York Times and The Guardian tend toward the liberal view? Yep. Do the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times tend toward the conservative? Sure. Do all these news organizations also provide good reporting with a diversity of views that allow their readers to get a good handle on the issues at hand? Yes.

Forget about Fox News; that’s a different kettle of fish.

A lot of my journalistic colleagues would disagree with me on this, claiming that they can — and do — remain objective when reporting stories. I believe that many of them try, but I also think it’s actually impossible for any individual to achieve and that claiming we are doing it makes us look dishonest or self-deluded.

Anderson Cooper

Here is a great article about a recent flap involving CNN’s Anderson Cooper, written by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, called “Journalists Angry Over the Commission of Journalism” examining just how bizarre — and potentially harmful — these debates about objectivity can get.

The reason I want to know what the Seattle Times thinks about the Gates Foundation funding media is based on the same reason the Times did this story. Does the Seattle Times think this practice is okay or not? Does it taint or not?

I’ve said repeatedly what I think about the Gates Foundation’s funding of media. I think it’s problematic but manageable if done with complete transparency and with a good rousing, public debate about what gets covered, what isn’t getting covered and why.

But that has to start with the media doing a better job of reporting on itself.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.