How does donor funding affect the independence, role-perceptions and ideology of the journalism it supports? We begin to answer this increasingly important but under-researched question with a year-long case study of the humanitarian newswire IRIN as it transitioned from being funded by the United Nations to a private foundation, run by a Malaysian billionaire. Using content analysis, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic research we document the changes that occurred in IRIN’s outputs, target audience and public service values and the complex interplay of influences which produced these changes. We find that, in this case, donor power operated entirely indirectly and always in concert with the dominant professional values within IRIN. In doing so, this case study highlights the importance of journalistic agency and contextual variables in the journalist-donor relationship, as well as the potential significance of contradictory dynamics. We also use this case to test whether Benson, Hesserus and Sedel’s model of media owner power can help to explain the workings of donor power.
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