The Nonprofiteers

Published on
July 30, 2010

Sheri Fink won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting this year for her compelling narrative about life-and-death choices made by health care providers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While the story ran in The New York Times Magazine, she did her reporting while enmeshed in the nonprofit journalism world, as a Kaiser Media Fellow and later as a reporter at the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica.

The journalism world and the nonprofit world have collided in big ways in last few years. The 2010 "State of the News Media" report by the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism said that philanthropies, instead of buying out failing newspapers, are trending toward investing "directly in content production under independent auspices." Health and investigative reporting have been particular areas of non-profit investment. The well-known health policy and health news organization Kaiser Health News was launched in 2009 by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting was launched at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism formed its staff this year after a six-month pilot period. Our own program, The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, launched journalism grant-making programs two years ago.

The list of nonprofits diving into health beats continues: FairWarning combines daily news with investigations, while California Watch takes a state-level approach to investigative watchdog reporting. Sarasota Health News, Health News Florida, the Kansas Health Institute News Service and InvestigateWest all investigate health news at local levels.

What does this mean for your journalism career? Does it create different working environments or editorial processes? Are there differences in pay or stability? Several ReportingonHealth members explained their experience shifting from for-profit to non-profit news for Career GPS. Have you worked at a nonprofit? Share your experiences in comments.

As always, you can find job and fellowship opportunities at the end of this post. If you have ideas for future posts or listings you'd like to see here, you can log in and let me know. Keep up with Career GPS by signing up for weekly newsletters or via RSS.

Emily Ramshaw, a current California Endowment National Health Journalism Fellow, shifted from The Dallas Morning News to The Texas Tribune, a new organization that focuses on investigations and public conversations. It was a gutsy move -- here's how she explains her decision in an email:

There are definitely not journalistic differences; the drive is the same, the race for the story is the same, the desire to break news is the same. And I'd say, frankly, that there aren't any real differences in pay or stability. I'm making slightly more now than I was before. And while I'm part of a start-up, which is always risky, I think the risk of a start up right now is pretty equivalent to the risk of staying put in a mainstream news operation. I'd say the biggest difference is that we're all trying to accomplish so many different tasks at once; I'm not just writing: I'm working with video, with audio, with graphics. Those are tasks that used to be shared among multiple people when I was in a mainstream newsroom.

Public policy guru Daniel Weintraub leads He spent 20 years working for newspapers -- the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Sacramento Bee -- before shifting to his new nonprofit position, but he says the biggest changes have not necessarily come from a new funding model:

The biggest change for me is being my own boss, being entrepreneurial, even though I am not trying to make a profit. I am trying to start a going concern, very much like a business. And being in charge of the project, I am in a position to make decisions about content, the look of the site, who writes for me, marketing, etc. When I decide to do something, I can make it happen very quickly. That would be the same if I were a small operation working with venture capital rather than a grant, but that is the biggest difference for me working on this venture versus my career in newspapers. Newspapers can be a bit bureaucratic, with layers of approval needed for decision making and then carrying out any decision made. With my project, I am the one and only layer.

My pay is very fair -- having been pegged by my funders at a level a bit above what I could have made had I stayed in newspapers and advanced to the next logical step in my career. They decided that's what was fair to compensate me for leaving a great job with very high visibility and status in the field -- public affairs columnist for the Capitol newspaper in the biggest state in the country. As for stability, I have a two-year grant, so when that runs out, I will have to find more funding. On the other hand, when I worked in newspapers, I never had a contract, so I was working on an at-will basis and could have been let go any day for any reason. I never expected to be let go, but it could have happened. So until the end of the grant, I guess I have more job security. But as the money runs out, I'll have none.

Eduardo A. de Oliveira, health reporter at the New England Ethnic Newswire, based at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says that shifting to a nonprofit has helped shift his focus from the mainstream:

I've worked at small community papers, non-profits, contributed as a columnist for a daily American paper, and freelanced for a major paper (the Boston Globe) as well. The most striking differences come from the type of audiences you're writing for. Although reporters have to be impartial at all times and place their focus on how every story can help readers effectively, working at non-profits give you more leeway to talk about people who usually aren't covered by the mainstream newsrooms. However, I've always tried to run away from advocacy journalism. Even though at a first glance a social cause can seem more valuable than your lonely craft, by applying higher ethical standards to your stories you can honor any cause even more.

De Oliveira's comments raise an important point about editorial independence. Does being at a nonprofit increase your freedom by eliminating the need to satisfy advertisers? Or does it constrain independence by drawing you closer to your funders? Weintraub says that he has more independence at, except for one ground rule: "Because of my nonprofit status, my funder insists that there be no 'lobbying' on my site, so nothing on the site can take a position for or against specific legislation, and we can have no advocacy for or against ballot measures or political candidates."

Ramshaw agrees that she has more independence with The Texas Tribune than she had at her newspaper job. She cites the small staff and "ground-up" editorial decision-making in a start-up environment where everyone has input. "I think there's also more emphasis now on writing with voice and authority," she wrote in an email, "but that doesn't mean my editorial judgment has shifted in any way."

"I don't know if I'd use the word 'independence,'" explained de Oliveira in email. "Unfortunately, in today's journalistic world independence has been limited. In the case of non-profit, the on-going nightmare is uncertainty about if you'll have that job tomorrow." He says that "by narrowing the target audience" non-profits force him to "broaden my view, including more communities, languages, realities."

One thing that Ramshaw, Weintraub and de Oliveira agree on, however, is that they very happy they made the leap to nonprofit journalism. They enjoy the challenges of reinventing the profession, and do not miss the pressures that the recession has placed on for-profit news media.

"I don't think either the profit or nonprofit form has a monopoly on good journalism," Weintraub writes. "Either one can produce great stories. It's just a matter of the enterprise, how it is structured, its goals and the execution."

De Oliveria makes this emphatic proposal: "Every American reporter should have the chance to work at a non-profit before they bring their journalistic careers to higher levels. I'd say I learned more with mainstream editors [in for-profit organizations], but much more from the people by working for non-profits."

As promised, here are this weeks job opportunities:

Jobs, Awards and Fellowship Opportunities

Healthcare Reporter, The Merced Sun-Star (via
Location: Merced, California
Status: Full Time, 18-month assignment
Medium: Newspaper

Health and Diet Editor, Baldwin Publishing (via Craigslist)
Location: Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Status: Full Time
Medium: Newsletters, Online

Reporter (beat includes health), Redlands Daily Facts (via
Location: Redlands, California
Status: Full Time
Medium: Newspaper

Science Writer/Editor, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Location: Bethesda, Maryland
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Senior Copywriter, MedThink Communications
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Status: Full Time
Medium: Advertising

Several positions in communications, Global Health Strategies
Location: New York City and Dehli, India
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications, Media Relations, New Media

Technical Writer-Editor, Veterans Health Administration
Location: Brecksville, Ohio
Status: Full Time
Medium: Technical Writing

Abe Fellowship for Journalists
Eligibility: Open to citizens or permanent residents of the United States or Japan with at least five years of professional journalism experience, with priority given to U.S. or Japanese journalists with no prior experience in the other country.
Award: Up to $23,500 for field work abroad and a fellows retreat to produce analysis or feature story about public policy topic.
Deadline: Sept. 15, 2010
From the Website: "The Program defines policy-relevant research as the study of existing public policies for the purpose of: a) deepening understanding of those policies and their consequences; and b) formulating more effective policies. Policy-relevance also pertains to the public dialogue on contemporary social issues."

California Health Journalism Fellowships (a program of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, which publishes this website)
Eligibility: Open to professional journalists, including freelancers, in California who have a strong interest in health news, though they need not be dedicated health reporters.
Duration: About six month to complete and in-depth health journalism project
Benefits: All-expenses paid intensive seminars in Los Angeles and editorial guidance for reporting project
Deadline: Sept. 2, 2010
From the Website: "Taught by prize-winning journalists, community health leaders, policy analysts and health care experts, this Fellowship program features two intensive sessions, held three months apart. Fellows participate in field trips, workshops and seminars highlighting some of the top health challenges facing California."

REMINDER: American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Awards
Eligibility: Awards are for individuals whose work has been published between July 1, 2009 through the end of June, 2010. With the exception of an award for children's science news, entries must be published by a U.S. news organization.
Award: $3,000 is awarded in each of eight categories.
Deadline: Aug. 1, 2010
From the Website: "Since their inception in 1945, the awards have gone to more than 300 individuals for their achievements in science journalism. The winning journalists have helped to foster the public's understanding and appreciation of science. Independent screening and judging committees select the winning journalists and their entries based on scientific accuracy, initiative, originality, clarity of interpretation and value in fostering a better understanding of science by the public."

Eligibility: The fellowships are reserved for college (or graduate school) graduates who may have worked for up to two years at a professional news organization
Duration: One year, beginning Oct. 1, 2010
Benefits: A stipend of at least $35,000 (commensurate with experience) with benefits and two weeks' paid vacation
Deadline: Aug. 15, 2010
From the Website: "Priority will be given to applicants with interest in covering national politics, Congress or domestic policy issues such as energy, environment, defense, finance/economy and health care."

REMINDER: Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund, J-Lab
Eligibility: Proposed projects must be about Philadelphia or the surrounding areas and must come with a distribution plan.
Award: $5,000 awards to 10 projects
Deadline: September 16, 2010
From the Website: "The Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Fund is a pilot project designed to develop opportunities for amplifying public affairs journalism in the region. The purpose of this fund is to help in-depth reporting projects get off the ground and to explore collaboration opportunities among news providers in the city and surrounding counties."