So, a couple of days ago, Jack Shafer called us silly–us being the growing number of people who are willing to put our money where our mouths are in suport of quality journalism. I’m pretty much over it, although of course I couldn’t resist writing my own snarky response , and my analyst was called in for some very expensive overtime. I’ll bet even Warren Hellman is succeeding in taking it one-day-at-a-time after being so grievously wounded in the pixels of Mr. Shafer’s column. It must be especially unpleasant to find out that you’re silly in your 70s, after having become the youngest partner in Lehman Brothers history at 28 and then building one of the most successful private equity firms on earth over the last 25 years. But, time heals all wounds. Even when the sniper is Slate, that cash-flowing juggernaut, that exemplar of online media’s sheer, profit-seeking might.
Still, I was heartened to read Jim Barnett’s response to Shafer’s post on the Nieman J-Lab blog. Sure, in his post Jim pays me a nice compliment, something I don’t get nearly as much of as I deserve (wait, was that out loud?). But what counts is that he cuts right to the heart of Shafer’s argument that non-profit journalism will almost certainly reflect the biases of its participants:
The point here is that journalistic bias is a function of human intention, not the business model under which the story is produced. For-profit, nonprofit, it does not matter. If a reporter or editor has an axe to grind, he or she is going to find a venue to grind it.
Ditto a financier. If Warren Hellman wants to meddle in the content of the Bay Area News Project, he will, and it will probably fail. If he understands that’s a bad idea for the integrity of the enterprise, he won’t. It’s that simple, and I’ve got a pretty good guess about which way it will go. My understanding is that Mr. Hellman has given a bunch of money to the San Francisco Ballet. I’d be surprised if he has weighed in on programming decisions, or lobbied for a role as a superannuated Bon Bon in The Nutcracker. My bet is that he likes dance; he and his family clearly love San Francisco, and so the match is pretty natural.
Maybe that’s why in philanthropy circles, a check is often referred to as a gift.