JFF #015 – Advancing racial equity in public interest journalism in Europe

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

The Journalism Funders Forum (JFF) was launched in a time – 2017 – that now seems like ancient history. The question back then was, simply, to fund, or not to fund journalism. We’re now in a period in which, as experienced media grant maker Molly de Aguiar put it to fellow funders in the US last month: “Every funder should be funding media.”

To that end, we’re currently conducting a survey into how European funders of all kinds are evolving their support for journalism and media, with findings expected to be shared in the autumn (please participate and share widely).

We’ve touched on many issues in past editions – #MeToo, the threat of media capture, information inequality, new forms of journalism, collaboration between funders, and the need to invest in more diverse and more plural investigative journalism. All these were written in the context of a journalism sector already under huge pressure financially, socially and politically – a journalism parched at the national level, burning at the local, leaving ever wider news deserts and drylands.

The existing challenges journalism was already facing, the dramatic accelerant of COVID-19, and the clarity of #BlackLivesMatter with anti-racism protests rippling across the world have finally focused minds on whether journalism is truly measuring up to its rhetorical ideals of representing the public interest. We’ll be taking a closer look at this in today’s edition.

And from next month on, we’ll resume with our country-by-country deep-dives starting with a look at post-COVID journalism and funding in Spain and Portugal (do share any suggestions you might have for us). 

If you like this newsletter and think someone else might too, please share it, and follow us on Twitter (@sdp@BibaDK).

Journalism Post-Covid-19

We’re now in a world vastly more turbulent and uncertain, in which old assumptions and approaches are no longer taken for granted, or meekly accepted. Over the past three months, funders across Europe and the world have been scrambling to find ways to respond to the crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, by supporting those providing accurate, reliable information. Media lie at the heart of this. We’ve sought to support this community with fortnightly news, analysis, resources and discussion on how COVID-19 is affecting journalism and media in Europe, and what foundations and other funders can do and are doing to help.

A reminder: Six months ago, we were all worried about news deserts – now, we’re worried about news sinkholes. In many countries, as lockdowns came into force, journalism was declared an ‘essential service’, and journalists ‘key workers’. At the same time, governments in other countries used the pandemic to further muzzle press freedom. Lockdown led to a collapse in print circulation but also saw a huge increase in online and mobile readership for many outlets. With entire countries shuttered, businesses couldn’t advertise and ad revenues collapsed, leaving tens of thousands of media worldwide in imminent danger of closure, threatening potentially disastrous consequences for citizens and societies.

Government and EU emergency relief for the journalism industry varied across Europe, with a handful of countries providing rescue packages to the media, most restricting their support to either the mainstream media, or to redirecting government advertising. Google and Facebook stepped into the breach, providing emergency newsroom support worldwide. Countries across the continent are now coming out of lockdown, and testing the boundaries of the post-COVID-19 new normal. While the initial emergency response period is largely past, the pandemic’s effects linger and continue to ripple in all sectors and at all levels of society. 

We’re slowly counting the cost of its impact on journalism, and on communities’ access to information. COVID-19 showed how essential journalism is to meeting communities’ information needs, and how wafer-thin its protections are, even for large and seemingly healthy media companies when deprived of the advertising model that has sustained so much of the media sector for the past few decades. (Some, like media co-operatives, with different incentives and power structures, and other reader-funded organisations like Mediacités, appear to be managing to ride out the crisis in reasonable shape.) It has also shown how expert sources quoted in the media in many countries (see under: FranceUSA) are still overwhelmingly male.

But it is the ongoing BLM protests against structural racism, systemic inequalities, and entrenched injustice and impunity – and, crucially, the wide public support for and engagement with them – that have held a mirror up to society, to journalism and to philanthropy and finally burned away the pretence of equality and diversity, the excuses for slow progress and inaction. This speech by Martin G. Reynolds, the Co-Executive Director of the Maynard Institute in the US, looks piercingly into the heart of each, concluding that “Journalism can play — and it must play — a vital role at this time, and in the coverage of this movement for justice, and equity. Like America’s ideals, our ideals are magnificent but are rarely applied equitably.” What we need to do is to imagine new ways, new paths, new goals. 

Racial justice and equity in Europe and its media – an ever-receding target?

The EU has had the Race Equality Directive for twenty years, but even just a cursory look at data from the Fundamental Rights Agency or ENAR shows that racism is still pervasive, and many societies, both former colonial powers and others, were at ease with the status quo until recently.

This 2002 report gives a good insight into the range of efforts from the late 90s onwards to combat racism in Europe’s media. The first European conference on racism and the media, “Prime Time for Tolerance” took place in 1997 in Bilbao (at which the EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs gave a speech, much of which could have been written today.) By 2008, ‘Diversity checklists’ for reporters to use to try to check their own biases and assumptions were circulating.

These are not new ideas or new struggles – the industry can’t say it didn’t know there was an issue.

Here’s just one example, for Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the Roma. The Decade of Roma Inclusion (2005-15) and related initiatives had in part sought to increase the number of Roma media and journalists, but by 2016, few journalists had entered mainstream media in Eastern Europe, and social attitudes towards and inaccurate reporting on Roma communities had barely changed, despite the best efforts of experienced Roma-origin journalists like Kremena Budinova. In 2018, Roma activist Margareta Matache and US philosopher Cornel West wrote in 2018 about the shared struggle of African Americans and Roma.

Self-examination is now being forced upon European media, and, as Martin Reynolds andmanyothersare noting, not acting to root out structural racism and to change the system is itself an act of violence and oppression.

What can – what must – funders do?

“We’ve got to be able to measure, so that we can fix.” 

Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights

Research and data are crucial for making the case. Last time we featured the recent report by Neue Deutsche Medienmacher*innen on the glaring lack of diversity in German newsrooms. In the UK, the NCTJ’s research shows both that ethnic minorities – and black communities especially – are underrepresented in journalism, especially at the higher levels, and that many leave the profession early in their career due to the systemic barriers they face. European data on these issues can be hard to find (especially in France and Germany) but hopefully the Media Pluralism Monitor emerging later this year will get us closer to some harder data through its ’social inclusiveness’ lens across the countries it studies. One popular line of argument in some quarters shows that boards and leadership teams that are more diverse in various ways make better decisions and more money. This shows that diversity increases productivity, quality, the bottom line, and this business case could be decisive for many.

In the US, a cluster of initiatives has advanced both the debate and the response. The newsroom diversity survey produced by ASNE showed in its first year similar results to the studies in the UK and Germany – and has given hard data talking points to those advocating for change. This and other research supported by funders like the Democracy Fund has yielded analysis of philanthropic giving to journalism in the US, which shows that just 8% of over $1bn of funding went toward diversity, equity and inclusion-focused efforts and newsrooms. It also showed that ~40% of non-profit news funding went to three key US organisations, and that when founders of colour did get grants, they were usually smaller than those awarded to white applicants, project funding rather than unrestricted, and often tied to working with larger, white-led partners. It also gives the lie to the idea that this is just a ‘pipeline’ problem, and that things would improve simply with better outreach, “going the extra mile” – this skew or bias is embedded in the structures and leadership of programmes and institutions.

This has led the Democracy Fund to develop a range of tools for funders in the US – but clearly a springboard for funders elsewhere – to help them improve their thinking on DEI, and particularly to address ‘equity’, which, at heart, involves the transfer of assets and power, not only the giving of more grants.

We call on this community to come together, to work with us and to help us to start pulling together and where necessary building similar structures and assets in common to advance the process in Europe. JFF provides a space for donors to talk freely and openly about challenges and hopes in their grantmaking for media and journalism and we are convinced that there is no greater challenge – or opportunity – right now than rethinking and reinventing the way that journalism funding is done, and enlarging the possibilities for what we think of as journalism and media. Please do get in touch with Biba and Sameer to discuss any aspect of this.

Here’s Molly de Aguiar again: “Imagine if funders had been investing in racial equity in media for the past 25 years. And community ownership of media. And media policy. Now imagine the next decade if funders continue to ignore those needs.”

Imaginative leaps

If we are to reimagine, reinvent, rebuild, reprioritise, we need angles and ideas from many disciplines. You’ll know by now that we’re big fans of journalism understanding and meeting citizens’ information needs, which in turn meets collective, democratic needs. That said, those thinking and strategising about and doing journalism can be a little inward-looking. 

What we’ve realised through this crisis is that we need to imagine new goals, and to be prepared to take ideas from everywhere and anywhere to that end.

In the past few months, we have taken inspiration from and shared with you many journalism focused events. This time, we share four clusters of ideas and approaches that we hope will take you a bit beyond the usual orbit of ‘can public interest journalism be sustainable?’ 

What we are reading

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