Journalism Funders Confidential #010: How journalism in Europe is being affected by the coronavirus pandemic

[Cross-posted from the Journalism Funders Forum website, where you can sign up for this newsletter. Here’s a note from the EJC on a change of focus for this newsletter under Covid-19.]

How journalism in Europe is being affected by the coronavirus pandemic

It’s not news to anyone in this community that journalism business models have been on the rocks for many years now. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of innovation and R&D funds and labs aimed at helping catalyse new forms of content, distribution, revenues and engagement. News and journalism organisations of all types, as well as their donors and investors, thought they had longer to make the transition.
 
But the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has condensed three years of change into three months. This threatens the very existence of large swaths of the journalism and news industry, at the time when we most need it, on the grounds of public health, government accountability, countering misinformation, and keeping us all informed and connected, when millions are being asked to stay in their homes.
 
Many governments have recognised that, alongside health workers, emergency services, and other services essential to society, journalists are also key workers – but few have yet created rescue packages that will keep these media alive long enough that they emerge from the pandemic as viable organisations. 
 
Some governments are misusing the pandemic crisis to increase attacks and restrictions on the media – through emergency and anti-misinformation laws, restricting movement, press passes, FOI and reporting, and attacking whistleblowers. The International Press Institute is tracking the numbers, and the Index on Censorship is mapping violations. Currently, Europe has the most cases, with Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union being the worst offenders.

Why are the media at such high risk?

News publishers in all countries – in print, digital and online – are experiencing a set of financial impacts that are threatening their ability to survive the crisis:

  • Implementing remote working and social distancing, at the same time as continuing to report, while supporting their staff with protective equipment.
  • Collapsing ad revenues by 50% or more, as crisis-affected businesses cut their ad spend, meaning news media can’t benefit from skyrocketing audience figures.
  • Events – an important source of both editorial input and revenue – have been cancelled.
  • For print magazines and newspapers, access to printing facilities and distribution networks is more difficult, and during the lockdown, circulations are declining.

Maps tracking the wave of layoffs, furloughs and even closures of media are beginning to appear – such as in Australiathe UK and the US.

How are funders supporting European journalism through the crisis?

Governments are the only bodies able to mobilise at enough scale to rescue entire sectors, and so, both at the regional and national levels, as for countless other sectors, people are pushing for emergency government support for journalism. But this takes time and deft advocacy.
 
In the meantime, as we heard on our first JFF funder roundtable last Wednesday, philanthropy is adapting and playing its part to support grantees/investees and others through the peak and aftermath of the pandemic, by:

  • Making restricted grants or earmarked expenditure more flexible or unrestricted, where necessary – and making loans.
  • Adapting activities, milestones and timelines from agreed plans to new realities.
  • Repurposing funds they would have used for other things, such as travel or events, to help with liquidity/cash flow.
  • Establishing, collaborating on, or contributing to emergency funds – e.g. Google has announced a Global Journalism Emergency Relief Fund for small and medium-sized news organisations, and the EJC and the Facebook Journalism Project announced a $3m USD emergency fund for countries in the Council of Europe region.
  • Collecting data and stories on the impacts of COVID-19 on their grantees, partners and the wider sector – as well as on fundamental rights and democracy.

This echoes the pledges that many funders across the world are signing up to, such as this statement from over 150 funders across Europe.
What measures are you taking or seeing? Let us know by emailing to info@journalismfundersforum.com.

Key resources from funders and journalism organisations

As the weeks progress, we’ll keep you posted on the most relevant resources and sources via the newsletter and funder-only digital roundtables, and we’ll keep building out our own tracking list.

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