Special Report

The Left’s Nonprofit Journalism Empire: The Nonprofit News Sector

Editor’s Note: This is a section of a forthcoming CRC special report Nonprofits and Journalism: An Analysis of the Shifting Information Landscape and Potential Growth Opportunities.

The Left’s Nonprofit Journalism Empire: Social Madness, Local Partisans, and Big Bets
The Nonprofit News Sector | Targets of Liberal Activists
Big Philanthropy’s Play | Selecting for Activists

Summary: In 2019 and 2021, Capital Research Center surveyed the changing media landscape, taking note of the increasing role of nonprofit and benefactor-driven “for-loss” media investments that are beginning to replace the 20th century’s commercial press empires.[1] Since our last analysis, Fox News has held its national prominence among national-level right-leaning broadcast media even as it paid dearly for its post-2020 election content, liberal foundations have vowed a half-billion-dollar initiative to “revitalize” liberal-leaning local outlets, and Elon Musk, the world’s richest and perhaps most controversial man, upended the social media landscape.

The decline of the supposedly “objective” commercial, metropolitan, liberal-leaning media is marked by a series of key events that fundamentally changed their business model and led to the rise of targeted partisan liberal journalism that serves not just ideological goals but business purposes as well. In the early 2000s, the rise of Craigslist broke local newspapers’ hold over classified advertising,[2] which was a primary source of newspaper revenue. In succeeding years, print media saw their ad income gutted by the rise of digital advertising, which offered superior targeting and efficiency. This challenge would take years to produce a cohesive response, but in the short term, digging deeper into a partisan left-leaning audience as a revenue strategy—which had been proven on the right by Fox News and others—was an immediate mechanism to bolster audience size and revenue.

Of course, this hard-left movement was one that the media were inclined to make anyway. In 2004, the liberal bias of the metropolitan media was exposed for all to see by the scandal over CBS News and legendary anchor Dan Rather’s presentation of forged documents purporting to show prior military misconduct by then-President George W. Bush in the final months of the presidential campaign.[3] From 2016 through 2018, internet-based, cable-news, and major print outlets alike showed just how little substantiation they needed to spin up a spy novel’s worth of unsubstantiated attacks on a Republican politician with the whole saga of Russiagate.[4]

This has resulted in the splintering of the media landscape and the rise of the ideological benefactor in news production and distribution. In a sense, this is not new; partisan press is as old as the American republic, with Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians forming newspapers to fight out the partisan battles of the First Party System, and a few modern newspapers still bear “Democrat” and “Republican” in their names as legacies of their former purposes as partisan outlets. At Capital Research Center, we have taken note of ideological takeovers such as Laurene Powell Jobs’s takeover of The Atlantic through her Emerson Collective venture philanthropy; the rise of issue-based left-wing “deep vertical” outlets like the environmentalist Grist, the abortion-activist Rewire.news, and the Marshall Project, an outlet that advocates liberalizing the criminal justice system; and the efforts of the left-wing NewsGuild-CWA labor union to compel mainstream media to parrot the left-wing party line.[5]

Sometimes the ideological benefactor chooses to organize as a for-profit institution operating without regard for profit or loss, in a sort of “for-loss” model. This model trades any tax advantages from organizing as a charitable nonprofit for the freedom to intervene in political campaigns and the freedom to keep the corporate books closed by avoiding filing the publicly disclosed tax returns required of nonprofits.

The Nonprofit News Sector

But with large sums of money available in the nonprofit sector for journalism work, especially left-of-center advocacy journalism, the nonprofit news sector has exploded in relevance. In late 2023, a coalition of major liberal foundations led by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $500 million Press Forward campaign to strengthen local news outlets, by which the foundations meant, provide funding to move them further leftward.[6]

The multi-billion-dollar Arabella Advisors network of liberal “dark money” seeded the States Newsroom network of state-capital outlets that put a liberal spin on state-government reporting. And then there are longstanding left-leaning foundation-funded nonprofit news efforts like ProPublica, which reported spending over $40 million in 2022. These outlets provide a steady stream of hostile stories targeting conservative interests at the national level.

Liberals’ expanding focus on local (and state-level) media is notable because public opinion research has indicated that the public look more favorably on local outlets than national outlets.[7] A half-billion dollar bet with tax-exempt private foundation money is a small price to pay for liberal interests to wear trustworthy names as a skin-suit to insinuate their ideology into the public discourse.

Part of the skin-suiting process is another focus of liberal philanthropic interest: instituting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) chokepoints in the talent pipeline and promoting DEI-focused outlets that hire DEI-qualifying staff to focus their reporting on liberal demographic-related matters. DEI focuses do more than simply change the demographic profile of the newsroom: They serve as an ideological filtering tool, because prospective young journalists who are willing to participate in DEI programming or report on a liberal demographic beat are likely to be left-wing.

By taking over Twitter (now branded as “X”), Elon Musk upended concerns about political censorship on social media, brought to the fore by the censorship—in the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election—of the New York Post’s reporting on a laptop that once belonged to Hunter Biden. With at least one prominent social media corporation committed (at least in name) to free speech and open debate, left-wing nonprofits have redoubled their efforts to use international regulators and corporate pressure to restrict the distribution of conservative and right-wing content on social media, with Pierre Omidyar backing the “Facebook Whistleblower” Frances Haugen and Media Matters launching pressure campaigns against Twitter/X advertisers.[8]

Left-wing interests, including perhaps first and foremost the multi-billion-dollar foundations of liberal Big Philanthropy like the MacArthur, Ford, Archewell, Joyce, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, among others, are deeply committed to preserving the advantage in investigative reporting and media production that liberals enjoyed during the 20th century heyday of the metropolitan “objective” press.[9]

In the next installment, liberal activists take over newspapers, defend liberal political figures, and attack conservative political figures.


[1] Michael Watson, “Don’t Trust the Messenger,” Capital Research Center, May 7, 2019, https://capitalresearch.org/article/dont-trust-the-messenger-part-1/; and Michael Watson, “Nonprofits and Journalism Update,” Capital Research Center, October 20, 2021, https://capitalresearch.org/article/an-update-to-nonprofits-and-journalism-part-1/.

[2] John Reinan, “How Craigslist Killed the Newspapers’ Golden Goose,” MinnPost, February 13, 2014, https://www.minnpost.com/business/2014/02/how-craigslist-killed-newspapers-golden-goose/.

[3] “Rathergate Revisited,” The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2005, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB110540645407122349.

[4] InfluenceWatch, “Trump-Russia Collusion Claims,” https://www.influencewatch.org/movement/trump-russia-collusion-claims/.

[5] Watson, “Don’t Trust the Messenger”; and Watson, “Nonprofits and Journalism Update.”

[6] InfluenceWatch, “John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/john-d-and-catherine-t-macarthur-foundation/; and InfluenceWatch, “Press Forward,” https://www.influencewatch.org/organization/press-forward/.

[7] Knight Foundation, “American Views 2022: Part 2, Trust Media and Democracy.” February 15, 2023, https://knightfoundation.org/reports/american-views-2023-part-2/.

[8] Emily Birnbaum, “The Tech Billionaire Aiding the Facebook Whistleblower.” Politico, October 20, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/10/20/tech-billionaire-aiding-facebook-whistleblower-516358; and InfluenceWatch, “Media Matters for America,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/media-matters-for-america/.

[9] InfluenceWatch, “Ford Foundation,” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/ford-foundation/; InfluenceWatch, “Archewell.” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/archewell/; “Joyce Foundation.” InfluenceWatch, https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/joyce-foundation/. InfluenceWatch, “Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF),” https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/robert-wood-johnson-foundation/.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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