Ep 60: Why Nonprofit Journalism Matters (with Christa Scharfenberg)

by Joan Garry

Nonprofit media fills an important gap. Local and regional newsrooms have been decimated and the expense of investigative journalism is very high. In this episode, Christa Scharfenberg, the acting CEO for the Center of Investigative Reporting, explains the specific challenges nonprofit journalism faces.


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When it comes to journalism and the media, did you know how important the nonprofit world has become? In fact, there are now more than 100 nonprofit news organizations just in the U.S.

Christa Scharfenberg is acting CEO for the Center of Investigative Reporting, founded in 1977. CIR’s stated mission is to engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling to spark action, improve lives and protect our democracy.

Scharfenberg says CIR fills a gap. Local and regional newsrooms have been decimated, the expense of investigative journalism is very high and the for profit media model cannot support that effort.

The reporting itself may not be fundamentally different in a nonprofit environment, but the ability to follow-through with a story that needs additional investigation can be.

Learn how the nonprofit tightrope is walked by a media organization that cannot just take any kind of focused funding, how different media on all sides of the ideological spectrum function to maintain accountability, neutrality, and build trust.

About Christa Scharfenberg

Christa Scharfenberg is Acting CEO for The Center for Investigative Reporting. She helped launch Reveal, CIR’s new Peabody Award-winning national public radio show and podcast and now oversees the show’s long-term growth and business goals. She is part of the team currently developing a Reveal documentary film strategy. She joined CIR in 2003 as communications manager, served as acting executive director in 2007 and as associate director from 2008-2015. Scharfenberg helped launch CIR’s California Watch reporting project in 2009 and managed many aspects of the merger of CIR and The Bay Citizen in 2012. She has been an executive or senior producer of documentaries for CIR, including FRONTLINE co-productions and the independent film “Banished,” which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Scharfenberg was a 2014 fellow in the Punch Sulzberger Program at Columbia Journalism School. Prior to joining CIR, she was associate director of the Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco. She is based in CIR’s Emeryville, California, office.

In this Episode

  • The difference it makes to have the freedom to follow stories wherever they lead
  • The number one thing funders care about
  • How do 501c3 media orgs accept money and still maintain editorial independence?
  • How does nonprofit media reporting differ from for-profit?
  • How the nonprofit journalism business model has shifted over the years
  • The importance of collaboration
  • Is there a liberal bias in public media?
  • Are niche organizations trending (i.e. the Marshall Project)?
  • Do reporters ever read press releases?