The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently released an eye-opening report on its study of nonprofit news sources. They examined 46 Internet sites that provide news content to the communications media and the general public. Unlike traditional news agencies such as the Associated Press and United Press International, which fund their operations by subscriptions to their services, the nonprofit sites rely on funding from various individuals and groups that want to “get their story out.”

These nonprofit news hubs seldom reveal what their sources of funding are. When they do, the apparent sponsors of the news site may be “front” organizations that serve as a conduit for financial support from other entites, protecting their anonymity.

Both liberal and conservative organizations sponsor these nonprofit news sources. “The topics covered on these sites often correlated with the political orientation of the sites and their backers,” the Pew Center reported.

“…The majority of news stories on these sites presented a narrow range of perspectives on the topics covered,” the report found. “Overall, half of the news stories studied (50%) offered just a single point of view on controversial issues. Just 2% of  stories contained more than two points of view. ”

Staffers of these sites say that “they were started precisely to fill the gap left at the state level from cutbacks in traditional media, especially newspapers, and thus present themselves as functioning much as traditional media once did.” Indeed, cash-strapped news media tend to take their releases at face value, because they don’t have enough resources to verify what they say.

The recent emergence of these nonprofit news sources (All 46 sites in Pew’s study were started since 2005.) suggests they are part of our current trend toward becoming a more ideologically polarized culture. If we want to be open-minded and objective in our decision-making, we need to question the sources of our daily news. We need a healthy skepticism toward any research that’s handed to us free of charge, funded by anonymous sponsors who claim to be working “in the public interest.”