The series, State of Intoxication, was the first high-profile partnership between for-profit news media and philanthropy in Alaska, and as such, it raised a lot of questions and generated a lot of ideas. In this post, we share our approach to working with journalists.

On Monday Rasmuson Foundation’s involvement with the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) series “State of Intoxication” came to an end. All of us here at the Foundation are all incredibly proud of the series and the journalists and the brave Alaskans who told their stories in the “Alcohol and Me” video series about the profound effects the over-consumption of alcohol has on all of us. We are also thrilled that the new leadership at ADN is committed to continuing the series until June 30 – a full year from when it was launched. See today’s story here. A full archive of State of Intoxication, including the “Alcohol and Me,” video narratives, can be found here.

Citari Townes-Sweatt, DUI victim. Photo by Anne Raup.

A photo of Citari Townes-Sweatt, DUI victim, at a car wash to raise funds for funeral expenses. Photo by Marc Lester.

The series is the first high-profile partnership between for-profit news media and philanthropy in Alaska, and as such, it raised a lot of questions and generated a lot of ideas. State of Intoxication received funding from the Recover Alaska Media Fund at the Alaska Community Foundation. Rasmuson Foundation was one of the contributors to that fund.Last week Rasmuson Foundation President Diane Kaplan met with members of the Alaska Press Club to talk about the Foundation’s approach to working with journalists. She talked about how the Foundation values the role of journalism in educating Alaskans about pressing issues and insuring informed public debate necessary for sound decision making. She also said this value for the field is baked in to who we are: nearly one-third of our staff either have journalism degrees or have worked directly in the news industry at some point in our careers.

Rasmuson Foundation does not, and probably never will have, a grant program specific to the production of media or journalism. We provide funding for books, documentary film, and web-based information projects through our established grant programs. And if you peruse our website, you will see many names familiar from bylines across the state. We have engaged journalists as story tellers to explore the connection we all have to the nonprofit sector, and we have had several reporters receive Individual Artist Awards to develop their creative work.

The “State of Intoxication” series grew out of discussion with ADN in December 2012 about the Foundation’s programmatic interests. We had recently joined a collaborative of funders that were in the beginning stages of creating strategies to decrease the harm Alaskans experience from the over-consumption of alcohol. Editor Pat Dougherty asked if the Foundation would consider a partnership to support two full-time journalists to focus on alcohol over the course of the year. We said yes. The project kicked off in July 2013 – a time when Anchorage was reeling from a tragic series of DUI-related deaths. The series won the Alaska Press Club’s Public Service Award; judge Tom Condon, columnist and deputy editorial page editor, wrote “‘State of Intoxication’ is an in-depth and creative look at a serious public health problem – a classic example of exemplary public service.” Pictures of the Year International, a competition among press photographers, recognized State of Intoxication with third place award in the Series or Special Section category.

Prior to entering this field, Foundation staff did some research and fact finding about how other private philanthropies were partnering with journalists. We found a range of options: the independent nonprofit model like ProPublica that receives foundation grants; the foundation-program-yet-independent model like Kaiser Health News that functions like a news wire service; and the sponsored fellow/reporter model like WHYY’s behavioral health reporter.

But what seemed to work best for this particular project was a model more akin to Ford Foundation’s support of The Los Angeles Times or NBC News where funding provides support for a particular subject area, and includes complete editorial separation between the funder and the news organization.

The Foundation is open to good ideas of all kinds – and that includes good ideas for ways to support public-interest news reporting. For the Foundation to consider future journalism projects, there must be alignment with the Foundation’s programmatic interests. Rasmuson Foundation, as a place-based funder, has broad programmatic interests with a focus on social services, growing philanthropy, art and culture, the availability of adequate housing, and diminishing harm from the overconsumption of alcohol.

The advice we give to everyone with good ideas is universal: call us. We are happy to listen to your idea and give feedback as to if it meets the Foundation’s criteria for funding.