Pulitzer Center Update

The Pulitzer Center and the Future of Nonprofit Journalism

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A photo of children in an IDP camp, taken for the Fractured Lands project. Image by Paolo Pellegrin. Iraq, 2016.

A photo of children in an IDP camp, taken for the Fractured Lands project. Image by Paolo Pellegrin. Iraq, 2016.

The Poynter Institute’s Jim Warren recently authored a piece on The New York Times’ announcement that they would begin directly sourcing funding from potential donors.

The piece, which comments on the broader relationship between donors and outlets, spoke to the importance of organizations like the Pulitzer Center in the news-funding landscape. Warren writes that:

“The way Pulitzer operates, there is essentially no doubt about editorial integrity. It keeps its journalism partners separate from its donors.”

Executive Director Jon Sawyer points out that this gap between funding and writing is necessary:

"It's in the interest of all—philanthropies, news outlets and the public—to keep these buffers in place."

The Pulitzer Center has always championed the idea that the story comes first—journalists should be able to provide in-depth coverage of global issues without being limited by the 24 hour news cycle. The buffer Pulitzer provides between donors and journalists creates a space for reporters to craft hard-hitting pieces that might otherwise go untold. Sawyer highlights this model in his comments to Poynter:

“Our work with The New York Times on 'Fractured Lands' is an excellent example of philanthropy and journalism done right … the Pulitzer Center played a crucial role, raising the money required for an extraordinary journalism and education project—but doing so in a way that left editorial control entirely in the hands of the Times."

On top of its commitment to freeing journalists from donor influence, the Pulitzer Center also helps free up financial resources for news outlets. Warren argues that:

“Partnerships don't mean you go out and hire new people to do certain reporting. More likely, they mean you shift more people from doing one thing to doing another.”

Because the Pulitzer Center is not tied to any one publication, it has the ability to support any journalist with a compelling story, regardless of who they work for. Instead of using a single set of writers, Pulitzer funds experts who want to pursue a specific story—not because they need to meet a quota or break the news—but because they have a passion for the issues they’re talking about.

This model of connecting independent storytellers to news outlets has allowed the Pulitzer Center to consistently publish high impact pieces that enrich outlets’ coverage without forcing them to divert funds themselves.

As an organization that funds reporting across the world, Pulitzer's primary mission is to report on stories that are chronically undercovered. Its work makes sure that these issues don’t fall through the cracks due to financial constraints. As Warren writes:

“As journalists, we must figure out new sources of revenue to finance quality journalism and we must clearly demonstrate that we have standards that distinguish us from people who just repeat and don't report.”