MacArthur 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 work in media because it reaches large numbers of citizens who need accurate and analytical information to make informed choices in their families, workplaces, communities, and in our democracy. Our support of documentaries and news programs aimed at informing audiences about important social issues advances the specific programs and broad mission of the Foundation.
MacArthur's grantmaking in public interest media is one of the Foundation's longest-running and most widely-recognized areas of work. The media grantmaking was initiated in 1983 with a focus on supporting independent and diverse perspectives on broadcast television. From 1983 to 2000, the grantmaking emphasized the production of independently-produced documentaries for public television, strengthening community media centers around the country (which supported the field of independent documentary producers), and supporting public radio. Since 2000, the media program has continued to support documentary films, while also adding support for investigative journalism and for deep and analytical reporting on television, radio and the Web. We have placed special emphasis on international news intended to inform American audiences. We have also supported work to promote the innovative use of digital technology in the production and dissemination of public interest media.
Our goal is to fund the development of and use of content toward advancing public education, reaching a broad public with the highest quality reporting conducted in such a way as to inform, educate, and inspire reflection and action.
Our Strategic Approach
Our grantmaking approach is based on a set of assumptions:
- Media consumption is a vital and significant portion of almost everyone’s day.
- A well-made and compelling documentary or news program can inform, educate, and enlighten audience members and cause them to know more about an important topic, understand it better, and sometimes take action.
- Public, nonprofit and independent news and media producers, who create non-fiction content without commercial pressures, produce content that is designed specifically to educate the viewers and listeners.
- Documentary and news content that is professionally produced and edited, well-crafted, and engaging is costly to make and has few sources of support.
We award grants that aim to:
- Document, describe, and explain important current events and social issues with accuracy, balance, context, and depth.
- Attract and retain significant audiences for non-fiction content through effective storytelling techniques and the appropriate uses of technology.
The media program has four components:
- Support for individual documentary film and radio projects. We support a small number of excellent documentary films each year because of their ability to inform, engage, educate, and inspire reflection. These projects, because of their quality, are generally widely distributed and relevant over many years.
- Support for programs that identify, co-produce, and broadcast documentary films and radio pieces on important social issues. We support POV, ITVS, Sundance, Tribeca, Radio Diaries, StoryCorps and others to curate and disseminate documentary content that is important for citizens in a democracy to see and hear.
- Support for noncommercial news production and distribution. We support news programs on public television (e.g., FRONTLINE, NewsHour, and Need to Know), public radio (e.g., Marketplace), and the Internet (e.g., LinkTV, Global Voices), and also national investigative reporting organizations (e.g., ProPublica, Center for Public Integrity, and Center for Investigative Reporting).
- Support for innovation and the optimal use of technology for the production and distribution of excellent nonfiction documentary and news programs. We support new and creative approaches to making nonfiction content broadly accessible and appealing.
In evaluating the media grantmaking, we look primarily at the reach of the content we support – the number of people who watched or listened. We also look at the judgments of other experts in the field evaluating the quality of the content – did the content receive awards and recognition? Finally, we explore signs of policy impact, which sometimes occurs many years later – did the report catalyze or contribute to legal, administrative, regulatory or policy change?