Funding public broadcasting is a never ending struggle. Sometimes it leads us to reach for dollars that we need more than we want.
Make no mistake, our editorial guidelines assure the public that the fundraising effort on the one hand shall not varnish any truth on the other hand. As journalists, we see the firewall as impenetrable.
Yet, sometimes the wall is flimsy and the money on the one hand appears to have strings attached to the journalism on the other. While journalists may insist on making solid editorial judgments, they miss the point. The point is that people see strings.
One case study where this dynamic played out was at KQED. The station had arranged funding for a documentary on wine making. A major funder was Mondavi. Such obvious ties to wine making.
Could KQED produce an honest look at wine making while taking money from a legendary wine maker? Yes, possibly. Provided the proper editorial protections were in place. But, is there a built-in perception issue? Absolutely.
The public will never be able to judge for itself. KQED killed the project in the face of public skepticism.
Read the account of KQED and Mondavi published by Current.
(Elsewhere in the Guide we discussed Issues & Challenges → Funding the Newsroom.)