What They’re Thinking


Youth Media Reporter asked funders whether their decision to support an organization is influenced by knowing that the group’s work has been picked up by a mainstream media outlet. The short answer? A resounding “yes.” The funders YMR contacted want to see youth media distributed as widely as possible. “We are invested in youth media’s reach and impact on the broader public,” explained Jee Kim of the Surdna Foundation.
Mark Hallett, senior program officer of the McCormick Tribune Foundation journalism program, agreed. “It’s a shame we don’t hear the views of this generation as often as we should,” said Hallett. “It’s wonderful to find groups who are finding ways to get the word out to as broad an audience as possible.”
But these views might primarily reflect the perspectives of national or regional funders, explained Christopher Shearer, director of grantmaking at the National Geographic Education Foundation. Many of the locally based foundations fund youth media primarily for what Shearer calls “local engagement” outcomes, such as keeping kids in a safe place after school or helping them build skills that can lead to jobs. It’s the national or regional funders, like National Geographic’s Education Foundation (and most of the funders who the YMR contacted for this article), who are more likely to look for “other desired outcomes on which the decision to award a grant rests,” said Shearer.
These outcomes could include raising the awareness of why youth should participate in policymaking, or demonstrating the importance of including diverse voices in the media. In these cases, if a youth media organization receives pickup by a mainstream news outlet, “they are more likely to communicate the foundation’s goals along with their media product,” said Shearer. “In a sense, these organizations are providing additional leverage by reaching the general public.”
Youth media groups focused specifically on community engagement might want to look closer to home for funding. But as all foundations “increasingly stress measurement and leverage,” said Sherarer, “pickup by mainstream media afford a youth media organization a competitive edge in the grants application process—as well as a greater role in growing the youth media field to the point that mainstream media itself might adopt and institutionalize the concept.”
“Knowing that community-based youth media organizations are working to add more authentic voices to the discussion is bound to impress a funder,” agreed Alyce Myatt, former media program officer for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and currently a consultant to the independent media and philanthropic communities agrees. “But it’s important to include information on the work printed or broadcast so that the funder can gauge the value of the content.”

The funders’ perspective: Does working with the mainstream media bring in money?