Our Strategy

For more than 30 years, MacArthur has supported the production and distribution of news and documentary programs. Recently designated as one of the Foundation’s small number of enduring commitments, the journalism and media program will launch in early 2016 a new, three-part effort whose goal is an American public with the information it needs to understand and navigate a complex world, and the opportunities and tools to share ideas, experiences, and perspectives for a robust debate. This new effort will retain the core values of the Foundation's longstanding program and introduce several new areas of work.


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.

Grantmaking Priorities

The media program has four components:

  1. Support for national, nonprofit journalism organizations conducting domestic and international reporting in the public interest. Grantees include National Public Radio, FRONTLINE, ProPublica, Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity, the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, among others.
  2. Support for national, nonprofit documentary programs and institutes that develop and present contemporary social issue documentary films. Grantees include POV, Independent Lens, America Reframed, Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and Firelight Media.
  3. Support for individual documentary film and interactive media projects that explore timely and under-reported social issues.
  4. Support for organizations that pursue research and innovations to serve the field of public interest journalism and documentary film.


In evaluating the media grantmaking, we look at a number of indicators of success:

  • Reach – the number of people who watched or listened to MacArthur-funded content
  • Collaborations and syndication – frequency of production and distribution partnerships with other news and media organizations
  • Awards – recognition from other experts in the field
  • Policy impact – contribution to policy, administrative or regulatory changes.


Updated March 2015

Migration Documentary Films thumbnail

Migration Documentary Films

MacArthur’s media grantmaking has supported the production of several documentary films on migration and immigration in the U.S. and around the world. Read More


Portrait of Kathy K. Im

Kathy K. Im

Director, Journalism & Media
Portrait of Lauren Pabst

Lauren Pabst

Program Officer

Gwendolyn W. Bolling

Executive Assistant

Susan M. Salaba

Program Administrator

Erica Twyman

Program Assistant