Tag Archives: seattle

Gates’ funding of journalism raises ethical questions

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In our coverage of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s report on the present and future of the global health beat, we noted the influx of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s largesse ($1 billion in the past decade) [correction] into that particular sphere of the health journalism world. The foundation has gone beyond supporting the training for journalists to now funding specific reporting enterprises – such as a recent ABC News special “on an incubator to boost preemie survival in Africa and a new machine to diagnose tuberculosis in the developing world.”

Now, Seattle Times reporters Sandi Doughton and Kristi Heim look at the logical question brought about by all that money: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?

I don’t think there’s a journalist among us who will be able to resist reading the whole thing, if only to see just how much certain organizations have been given and which stories the foundation has been pushing. Nonetheless, I’ll run through a few of the highlights.

The Seattle Times reporters touch on some high-profile pieces funded through partnerships between the foundation and top media organizations, but write that the Gates effect runs much deeper than investigations that say “Funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” at the end. After all, they write, “The Gates Foundation spends more on policy and advocacy than most big foundations — including Rockefeller and MacArthur — spend in total.” It accounts for a tenth of their annual $3 billion budget.

To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.

As the reporters note, their sources point that that, “While the aims may be laudable, the ability of one wealthy foundation to shape public discourse is troubling to some.”

“Even if we were to satisfy ourselves that the Gates Foundation were utterly benign, it would still be worrisome that they wield such enormous propaganda power,” said Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media, culture and communications at New York University.

For their part, foundation folks say they’re trying to raise the profile of undercovered issues, not manipulate the world’s media.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure people understand not just the need, but the opportunity, to make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people around the world,” said Joe Cerrell, who oversees the foundation’s policy, advocacy and communications work in Europe. “For us, it’s about making sure that these stories get told.”

For a more critical take, see Humanosphere blogger Tom Paulson’s review. In addition, David Jacobs, director of foundation information management at the Foundation Center, raises the question of whether it’s ethical for media outlets to accept donations from large foundations whose activities they may have to scrutinize one day.

Oh, and by the way, the reporters write, “The Seattle Times received a $15,000 Gates grant through Seattle University for a series of stories on homelessness in 2010.”


Christopher Williams, senior communications officer of The Gates Foundation, has written to Covering Health to clarify: “In fact, the foundation has spent approximately $50 million on media grants and partnerships over the past decade. We have spent approximately $1 billion on all advocacy efforts, for all of the issues that are important to the foundation. This includes research, policy work, and other advocacy of our issues that is not necessarily media focused.”

Nonprofit hospitals pay country club dues for execs

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In what would seem a logical follow up to last year’s piece on hospital salaries, KUOW’s John Ryan has used public records to look at the top salaries at Seattle-area nonprofits this year.

This time, he focuses on the job perks given to nonprofit executives as much as he does their paychecks. Among them, Ryan writes, “Eight hospital systems in our region reported paying membership dues for their executives at clubs like the Columbia Tower Club and the Kitsap Golf and Country Club.”

A PDF of the salaries is also available. For more on how Ryan puts it all together, see the how-to he posted with last year’s edition.

Erdely wins for story of bone marrow donation

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

AHCJ member Sabrina Rubin Erdely won a 2010 Clarion Award [press release] from the Association for Women in Communications for her piece in Self magazine about bone marrow donation. The award also cites AHCJ member Sara Austin, who is the magazines features director, news and health.

The story, of a bone marrow donor meeting the young woman whose life she helped save, is an arresting one, but the piece’s real strength is its focus on the mechanics of such donations. From the unlikely match to the surprisingly non-invasive extraction, Erdely uses the women’s story to demystify an otherwise intimidating process.

The piece is filled with moments like this, which cause less informed readers (like myself), to read the paragraph again just to make sure we’re understanding it right.

Say the words bone marrow transplant to anyone and the first reaction is probably a wince. “People imagine drilling through bone and pain and a long recovery,” says Katharina Harf, executive vice president and cofounder of the donor-recruitment organization DKMS Americas in New York City. In fact, nearly three quarters of so-called bone marrow donations involve no removal whatsoever of bone marrow—they’re done by extracting blood stem cells intravenously from the arm, like giving plasma. (Some doctors now prefer the term “stem cell transplant,” because both marrow and blood house these vital cells.)

How prescription drugs dethroned heroin in Seattle

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Heather Bosch, of Seattle radio station KIRO, dedicated a five-part series to explaining why “Prescription drugs – used incorrectly – are killing more people in King County than all other illegal drugs, combined.”

It’s the latest in a string of prescription drug localizations; one which distinguishes itself with an emphasis on the move from heroin to prescription pills.

In part one, Bosch explains how prescription opiates overcame their illicit cousin, heroin, to become the drug of choice in the Seattle area. In part three, she talks to a recovering opiate addict about the toll the pills took on his life and psyche. And in part four, Bosch looks into how ready access has made it easier for teens to become addicted to prescription drugs.

Reporter digs up Seattle hospital salaries

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

John Ryan of KUOW News in Seattle used publicly available data and records requests to localize the national debate on nonprofit compensation with a piece on top earners at Seattle-area hospitals. Ryan details his information-gathering process here and shares his list of top local earners.

Ryan used a mix of local and national sources, getting explanations from some of the top earners (and perspective from some of the bottom earners) and quotes from those who believe nonprofit workers should not be earning that much money. He also included the thoughts of those who believe nonprofit hospitals need to pay competitive salaries in order to bring competitive talent.

Another story looks at the role of charity care and how much of it is provided: “Only three of the nonprofit hospitals in central Puget Sound give away more than 2 percent of their care to the poor: Providence Regional in Everett, Saint Clare in Lakewood, and Saint Francis in Federal Way. The Washington Department of Health tracks those figures.”

Registration for Health Journalism 2009 is open

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Planning for AHCJ’s annual conference – in Seattle, April 16-19 – is moving full-speed ahead. Check out the Web site for a list of expected events and panels, field trips and more.

There are several fellowships available to help journalists with the costs of attending the conference. Additionally, AHCJ has not raised registration fees. In addition to informative panels, press conferences, networking, access to the latest resources and story ideas, registration also includes your choice of field trips or a multimedia workshop on Thursday, a Freelance PitchFest on Friday, the awards luncheon and evening receptions.

People who want to go on one of the field trips need to register for the conference early because there are limited seats available and the field trips always fill up fast.

We hope to see you in Seattle!