The World Press Institute, which trained journalists from around the world about the role and responsibilities of a free press for 46 years, is shutting down, the victim of dwindling financial support from American news organizations.
“This is a sad development,” the institute’s board chairman, Howard Tyner, said in a statement announcing the decision Monday. “But in the short term at least, there was no other way to go.”
The program brought more than 500 journalists from nearly 100 countries to Macalester College to experience working under the press freedom protected by the First Amendment.
Many came from emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, where the traditions and skills of a free press had been lost. Others came from countries where governments still control the press or where journalism is dangerous work.
Alumni hold high-level editorial positions in China, Turkey, Panama, Ghana, Malaysia and many other countries.
The bulk of the institute’s funding came from media companies and affiliated foundations, though donations also came from dozens of corporations and individuals.
The shutdown reflects the retrenchment trend in news organizations and the institutions they supported, said Doug McGill, who resigned March 17 after serving less than three months as executive director.
“The decisions are being made on a dollars-and-cents basis, and there is no wider consideration of societal value,” McGill said.
The institute lost a $125,000 annual grant, nearly one-third of its funding, from the Knight Foundation last year, McGill said. He said the institute also lost a smaller sum from the Star Tribune Foundation, which is phasing out Minnesota projects after the newspaper’s sale last month.
McGill said he was unable to negotiate temporary support from Macalester, where Readers Digest founder DeWitt Wallace set up the institute in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, as a way to promote international understanding by educating foreign journalists about the United States.
The three remaining employees — two full-time workers and a part timer — will be laid off effective April 27, but the directors haven’t given up hope of reconstituting a program as early as next year, said Tyner, a former editor of the Chicago Tribune.
Even as financial support dried up, enthusiasm for the program grew abroad, said John Ullmann, who was its executive director until last year.
“It’s pretty moving to be with these journalists,” Ullmann said. “The program has been an epiphany event for them professionally and personally. … They have realized there are ways to improve their journalism even when they can’t improve the political situations they are in.”