JFF #008: Greece & journalism funding in times of austerity

[Cross-posted from the Journalism Funders Forum newsletter, where you can sign up for this newsletter. Twitter version here.]

Journalism and austerity

Much of the discourse around domestic and European philanthropy in Greece in the last decade has been meeting basic needs, and helping to hold together the fabric of society. While journalism in Greece is in a precarious position – the 2017 Media Pluralism Monitor(MPM) rated at 90% the risk to “media viability” – it hasn’t been a top priority for domestic funders.

The Greek media landscape is beset by challenges. Levels of trust in the media are rock-bottom. Media ownership is more concentrated and opaque than ever and the situation seems to worsen by the year. Many mainstream media have been taken over from the old publishing houses by shipping mogulsbusiness conglomerates, and even sports investors. There are few secure jobs in the industry, and everyone is expected to do more with less. The risk to the independence of the national public service broadcaster ERT, closed by the government in 2013, but reopened in 2015, is rated in the MPM at 75%. Press freedom, whilenot at critical levels, is facing threats especially from far-right groups.

Minorities are especially hard-done-by – the MPM assesses a 96% risk that minorities will not have proper access to or representation in the media. For those outside Athens, it’s even worse – local and community public interest journalism (where it exists) is operating on the most threadbare of resources.

Who is doing noteworthy public interest journalism?

This mixture of political interference, media concentration and a collapse of trust in journalism has left independent Greek media in a weak state. Research and data over the last few years have painted a bleak picture, and while some aspects have changed, concern over the health of Greek media continues to be widespread. But bright spots in independent media – if, for now, smaller scale and on shoestring budgets – have begun appearing.
Reader-supported investigative startup Inside Story, founded in 2016, is a significant and welcome success story. In addition to its core investigative and reporting work, it isexperimenting in co-creation with its audiences and supporters. Co-founder Dimitris Xenakis says that they are committed to genuinely sharing power with their readers – it’s an open-ended process that leads them in new directions each time they do it.
Two other investigative organisations of note have been founded recently: theMediterranean Institute for Investigative Reporting (2019), a non-profit collective of investigative journalists, and The Manifold (2018), which was recognised in the final round of Google’s DNI Fund.
AthensLive is a more internationally-minded English-language non-profit news site, with strong links to other small independents across Europe – it distributes largely through social media (e.g. Facebook). It has crowdfunded in the past and has also received grants from domestic and international funders including the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.    
Solomon is another non-profit media collective producing narrative journalism in Greek and English explicitly focused on social inclusion and diversity. It trains affected communities to produce media through its LAB initiative, and has received funding from OSF. Other initiatives focused on telling more diverse, inclusive and rights-based stories about migrants in particular have sprung up, including Migratory Birds and other civil society-linked reporting projects.
An encouraging trend, examined by academic Eugenia Siapera, is the rise of cooperative media, partly in response to the financial crisis. Cooperatives range from small local journalism co-ops to EfSyn, a traditional newspaper that was saved through a worker buyout. Siapera also notes the upsurge in radical, alternative and activist media like radiobubble andthe Press ProjectOmnia TV, which grew partly out of the 2008 protests in Athens, also continues to operate on a grassroots volunteer basis.

Who is funding public interest journalism?

The MPM’s discouraging 2017 verdict was that there was an “extremely limited number of initiatives oriented towards supporting “independent journalism” or seeking to finance news content from sources such as readers’ donations and crowdfunding. Moreover, there are no support schemes to encourage market entry or help media organisations overcome financial difficulties”.
Since then, a handful of funders and initiatives have been actively funding independent journalism in Greece, particularly the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), whose co-president Andreas Dracopoulos has called for other shipping magnates to do more for social causes. Dracopoulos’ opening remarks at the 2019 GEN Summit in Athens were a rallying cry for public-spirited magnates and philanthropists to join SNF in support of journalism.
In 2018 SNF founded iMEdD (the incubator for Media Education and Development) as a new hub and centre of gravity for independent journalism in Greece. Its inaugural 24-hour launch event has just become an annual celebration of journalism under the banner “Journalism Never Sleeps”. iMEdD runs a range of initiatives intended to catalyse Greece’s precarious independent journalism field – a for-profit and non-profit journalism incubator programme, abridge programme to international journalism initiatives, an investigative and data journalism lab, and cycles of training.
Another funding initiative that promises to change the conversation is the EEA Grants. This granting mechanism funded by three donor countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), intended for 15 beneficiary nations in the EU, provides funds primarily for work in civil society. Under its Active Citizens Fund, it increasingly seeks to bring civil society and media closer together in Greece. The administering partners, Bodossaki and Solidarity Now, actively held matchmaking events between journalists and civil society groups focused on social issues. The programme may give new legitimacy to public interest journalism initiatives as a means to address societal questions and debates, contributing to the process of rebuilding trust in journalism.
Few other funders specifically work on journalism, although some (including Bodossaki itself) do engage with it in ad hoc ways. The Journalism Initiative, founded by some of the same team as Inside Story, managed to get corporates that had donated through their CSR programmes to help with the wildfires (including airline Aegean and a part of Philip Morris International) to pay a small amount to support a journalistic observatory tracking how the recovery process was being handled, and how well the funds donated were being spent.
Recent government efforts to support the ailing news industry, however, had to be rolled back after a serious mis-step.

What can interested funders do?

Apart from making contact with other funders in Greece, there are three things, our interviewees representing both, philanthropy and media, told us:

  • Public interest journalism is so precarious, that like in other extreme contexts, some initiatives just need funds to keep the lights on;
  • Fund carefully, as a way of helping more and more initiatives avoid capture – independence is a precious commodity, hard-won and easily lost;
  • Funding and linking journalism with other public interest activities like transparency and FOI could be a productive seam – and don’t forget the wider environment of research and policy.

What else we’re reading this month

1. The Journalism Funders Forum has launched a new mentorship scheme for staff at philanthropic foundations that want to know more about the media funding space. Register here!

2. The European pooled fund Civitates has announced a sub-fund on independent public interest journalism – one to keep an eye on.

3. Victor Pickard – co-director of the Media, Inequality & Change Center – has a much-circulated piece on a media system that serves people, not corporations.

Coming up … 

Next month’s edition will take a deep dive into Italian media philanthropy. Any tips, suggestions on who we should talk to and which initiatives to look into? Email us.

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