News sites showing lean toward left or the right

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MADISON, Wis. — More than half of emerging nonprofit news sites produce content with a clear ideological bent, according to a study released Monday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The report examined 46 national and state nonprofit news websites, which have become more common as traditional newsrooms have shrunk, and found 56 percent of the sites were ideologically based.

The more ideological sites tended to be funded mostly or entirely by one parent organization, although that group may have multiple contributors, the study said. Those sites tended to produce less content and be less transparent about who they are and where their funding comes from.

Sites with a more balanced political perspective tended to have multiple funders, more transparency and more content, the study found.

The most liberal sites were nine operating under the umbrella of the American Independent News Network, which is funded by a variety of individuals and organizations including the Open Society Foundations founded and chaired by billionaire financier George Soros.

The most conservative sites were 12 that shared the common name “Watchdog” and were funded chiefly by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which was launched in part by the libertarian group the Sam Adams Alliance.

The report found that topics covered also correlated with the political orientation of the sites and their backers. The Pew study found that the American Independent News sites heavily favored stories on organized labor and the environment, while the Watchdog.org sites focused on stories about government waste and inefficiency.

David Bennahum, founder and CEO of the American Independent News Network, said the network’s websites “have a moral perspective on all of the issues.”

“We think part of doing great journalism includes having a perspective on what is right and what is wrong. … When we do the stories, we endeavor to do them fairly and do them well,” Mr. Bennahum said.

Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center, questioned whether writing stories about government waste, fraud and abuse means the organization has a conservative viewpoint.

“It’s not ideologically driven to ask tough questions of government,” he said.

He said that, in his opinion, newspapers and others wouldn’t run stories written by Franklin Center reporters if they were viewed as being biased.

Only 2 percent of stories on all the sites contained more than two points of view and half the stories studied had just one point of view on controversial topics, the report said.

Pew researchers analyzed 1,203 stories from the month of September 2010 and conducted an audit of the sites and their chief supporters between May and September 2010.

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