Charles Koch Institute Trains Future Journalists
April 11, 2019 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Who is now in the business of training young journalists? Why the Charles Koch Institute, that's who, along with the (potentially puzzling) assistance of the Poynter Institute. "The Media and Journalism Fellowship program is for aspiring and entrepreneurial journalists and storytellers. Our program offers media and creative professionals the opportunity to refine their skills and accelerate their careers while learning about the crucial role of free speech and a free press in our society. The year-long fellowship starts its next session in June 2019."

On a cached version of a page once posted to Twitter, the Institute explains how the year-long fellowship works. "Your week will be focused on the hands-on experience provided by your participating organization and enhanced through the skills you’ll gain through our online programming. In years past, publications where participants were picked up have included The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Playboy, and USA Today."

While some of the participating media organizations this year include mainstream media outlets such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Detroit News, many of them are conservative to right-wing operations such as the American Spectator, the Daily Wire, and Mercury Radio/The Blaze (sample headline: "Candace Owens Destroys Dems during hearing on white nationalism").

How did the Poynter Institute, a respected nonprofit, end up partnering with CKI? According to a press release, "Poynter faculty joined the teaching team of the CKI fellowship during the 2018-19 program year, bringing its ethics expertise to the curriculum. Since that time, Poynter launched the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership, a platform to expand the scope of Poynter’s work and influence. This, coupled with Poynter’s 40-plus year history as a global leader in professional journalism development and education, led to the establishment of a new partnership role with CKI’s journalism fellowship program."

About 45 early-career journalists will be accepted into this year's program. “This fellowship gives us an opportunity to work closely with early-career reporters, training them to skillfully navigate ethical issues and build trust with audiences through their work online,” said Poynter Senior Vice President Kelly McBride. “It’s a great way to both help young journalists and support professional news organizations that need more reporters.”

Professional news organizations? Not all of them. One of the participating organizations, Real Clear News, appears to be a link aggregator/click farm for right-wing politics rather than a company that practices journalism. Other media participants don't even pretend to practice journalism. Red Edge calls itself a "digital advocacy company" while Emergent Order calls itself a "creative agency."

Some have blamed Craigslist founder Craig Newmark for helping destroy the ad-base for newspaper publishing , while others blame the industry itself. Either way, one can only wonder what Craig himself might think about one result of his donations to Poynter: Helping the Charles Koch Institute train young journalists to work at places like AllSides, a website that claims to offer balanced news and tells readers, "Don’t be fooled by media bias and fake news."

Former fellows of the Charles Koch Institute haven't yet taken over US journalism or the media industry. After all, this is only year three of CKI journalism training and the first year of this particular partnership with Poynter. But can you imagine a future in which they do? What worked for the Federalist Society in the area of law might well work for Charles Koch in journalism, communications, and digital advocacy.
posted by Bella Donna (15 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, good. I thought this dystopia couldn't get any more dystopian, but apparently I lacked imagination.
posted by hippybear at 8:32 AM on April 11, 2019 [15 favorites]

I have maybe 20-30 years left. I hope they pass without too much of this (and other things) taking a firm foothold. That might be hoping against hope, but here I sit.
posted by hippybear at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is so odd to me that this very real program is being supported by a nonprofit that I used to respect by helping train people who will be getting internships at places like Real Clear News. I am happy that they get paid a decent amount, some 52K on average, and I am deeply unhappy that Craig's attempt to do right by the industry may backfire in such an unexpected way.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:38 AM on April 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

What the hay is an "entrepreneurial journalist"? Or do I not want to know?
posted by NoMich at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Who knows? Not a muckraker, I am guessing.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:47 AM on April 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

From Paste: Irony Is Dead: Charles Koch Is Funding a Journalism Fellowship with Poynter

So much of what Poynter is teaching about journalism with Charles Koch’s money is ultimately under siege from a Republican Party funded in part with Charles Koch’s money. Poynter is lending their reputation to someone who is beneath them, and providing some measure of political cover to Charles Koch in the process. Sure, Charles Koch can bankroll an insurrection in the GOP that inevitably elects Donald Trump as its leader, but he gives money so a few scores of young people can learn journalism—in summation, Charles Koch is a land of contrasts.

A handful of billionaires are holding us and the planet hostage, all in servile fealty to the almighty dollar. Poynter does important work, and there is no doubt that dollars can help create progress, no matter where those dollars come from, but at what point do we begin fighting back against these familiar adversaries? Can we even fight back? How can anyone ask a non-profit to turn down a donation from a billionaire?

Life in America is a series of surrenders we call compromises, where the most consistent outcome is a few get more, and many receive less. While Poynter receives some money to fund journalism education (and to not fund journalism education for the few poor souls who get sentenced to work in the right-wing Pepegulags), the Koch brothers gain an unearned legitimacy. The cost of these fellowships is the equivalent of change the Koch brothers find under their couch, and they have spent infinitely more on influencing a kind of politics that stands opposed to the journalism taught by Poynter. At its very core, journalism is about revealing truths that power does not want to be revealed, and a journalist teaching outfit taking money from one of the world’s richest men who has spent a fortune on his immense hidden power is a depressingly accurate summary of what America’s political life in 2019 is like.

posted by Bella Donna at 8:58 AM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've posted this WaPo link before, Charles Koch, champion of free speech? His grants to news media accelerate.
In recent years, Koch has stepped up his contributions. In 2015, grants of all kinds totaled $44 million; last year, the amount had more than doubled to $90 million, according to Trice Jacobson, the foundation’s director of strategic communications.

Despite their initial wariness, the foundation’s journalism recipients say Koch hasn’t tried to influence them after making a grant or investment.
While I'm deeply skeptical of the motives of Charles Koch and the Charles Koch Foundation concerning their grants towards journalism, there are reasons to believe that they are a little more nuanced that I would expect at first glance. The Kochs have spoken out against conservative efforts to harass professors, they have strongly condemned the Goldwater Institute's model legislature to "protect" conservative speech on campus and Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist used to intimidate academics and their institutions.

And that's difficult to accept at face value because the of tactics of Koch Industries and Koch influence in higher education are antithetical to free speech, good journalism, and transparency.
posted by peeedro at 9:02 AM on April 11, 2019 [10 favorites]

Much easier to game the refs if you pay the refs. Plus, you can save money on the back end, since you don't have to end up buying whatever journalistic outlets these people end up at to ensure positive coverage.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:34 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wonder what the return on investment is for this kind of stuff? Because you know they have a dimly lit room full of excel jockeys tracking this in real time. I'm sure they have powerful sounding metrics for describing the financial rewards from exploiting power. Stuff like,

Overton Window Degrees / $M/ Year
Inflation rate for cost of a position of public service by branch of government
Y-o-y % increase in oligopoly share of global income


posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

So this is either a keep-your-enemies-close manoeuvre, a way of pre-prejudicing left opinion against any and all upcoming journos ("but they accepted Koch money!"), or even a wild long-shot that good journos might make newspapers a thing again and thus benefit Koch Industries' pulp production.

There's a tiny chance that CK's heart grew three sizes overnight and this is genuine altruism, though.
posted by scruss at 12:28 PM on April 11, 2019

I have maybe 20-30 years left. I hope they pass without too much of this (and other things) taking a firm foothold. That might be hoping against hope, but here I sit.

You are well too late. Take a look at Malcolm Gladwell's history.
posted by srboisvert at 12:38 PM on April 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Poynter only just recently started to turn around from years of serious financial losses -- probably because of new revenue from the Kochs and others.

I'll dig around in the 990s later, but if you want a snapshot, or a starting point, ProPublica's Nonprofit Explorer has baseline figures and links to IRS Forms 990s and downloadable data.

PS -Great post, Bella Donna.
posted by martin q blank at 2:49 PM on April 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I just noticed that Craig Newmark has given money to lots of media organizations, including Mother Jones. He gave them 1 million dollars in August 2018. Unlike Poynter, MJ will definitely not cosy up to anyone in the Koch family. Good job, Mister Newmark. It is not your fault the Poynter folks misused your donation.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:52 PM on April 12, 2019

Also, I found a January 2018 article from Columbia Journalism Review: Author and journalist Jane Mayer, who has investigated the Kochs for The New Yorker and her book, Dark Money, says the Kochs’ recent media philanthropy functions as “whitewashing” to clean up a corporate image stained by years of environmental pollution and what she calls “information pollution.”

“The Kochs have had terrible public relations issues,” says Mayer, “tarred by their reputation as one of America’s biggest polluters.” After years of bad press, “They have put a tremendous amount of money and energy into creating a new image, to win public favor through the press,” says Mayer. “I see this funding of institutions as part of their longstanding public relations effort. Those who take their money are doing them a great favor.”

posted by Bella Donna at 3:57 PM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought all the media folks that the Kochs favor would get degrees from PragerU.
posted by nofundy at 3:41 PM on April 13, 2019

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