Chicago journalist Geoff Dougherty claims the Chicago News Cooperative and MacArthur Foundation relationship went sour because CNC “had enough reporters and know-how to cause problems with MacArthur buddies at City Hall.” He writes:
If the president of the MacArthur Foundation wants to give you half a million dollars, he’s got enough lawyers to find a way to do it legally, whether it’s as a grant, a loan, a program-related investment or a happy birthday present. Conversely, when you find out that you’re not getting $500,000 from MacArthur, you can be pretty sure it’s because the foundation has decided it doesn’t like you, never mind the claptrap about the IRS.
The foundation was clearly uncomfortable with funding a news organization that had enough reporters and know-how to cause problems with MacArthur buddies at City Hall, and didn’t have the integrity to say so directly.
I asked Dougherty, who received a $340,000 Knight Foundation grant for his Chi-Town Daily News in 2007, to tell Romenesko readers more. He says in email: “MacArthur has very close working relationships with top brass at CPS [Chicago Public Schools] and the housing authority, which are major grantees of the foundation. The former head of another MacArthur grantee, New Communities, is [Rahm] Emanuel’s Housing and Economic Development Commissioner, and served in that role under Daley too. You can get a sense of the foundation’s love for City Hall here.”
* MacArthur Foundation’s response:
Statement of Elspeth Revere, Vice President for Media, Culture, and Special Initiatives, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
February 22, 2012
The MacArthur Foundation supports the production and distribution of news and documentary programs for television, radio, and the Web that help inform the American public about important domestic and international current affairs and policy issues. We provide grants to about 15 national news organizations ranging from NPR and the PBS NewsHour to Investigative News Network. None of these organizations receives all of its support from MacArthur; many receive far less than $500,000. In no case do we monitor or get involved in any editorial decisions at these organizations.
We provided early support to the Chicago News Cooperative (CNC), awarding its first grant very quickly in order to help it make its deadline to start publishing in The New York Times. We did so because we believed it was important to back an experimental new model for substantive local news coverage, however risky that model might have been. Since CNC started in 2009, we provided a total of $1 million in grants. We were working on a renewal grant to CNC when it notified us that it was closing. While we had not yet recommended a specific amount, whether our funding came in the form of project support or general support would have had no bearing on the size of our grant.
CNC had other funders, both national and local. We do not know whether any of them were asked for emergency support. We do know that CNC was testing different approaches to raising revenue in addition to foundation grants. The slow economy may have contributed to the lack of immediate success of some or all of those efforts.
We are sorry to see the CNC come to an end in its present form and hope that it is successful in maintaining some elements of its work in the future. MacArthur is committed to continuing our 30-year history of support for non-profit journalism because informing the American public matters as much now as it ever has.