JFF #016 – How media funding in Spain and Portugal is changing

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

Welcome to the latest edition of Journalism Funders Confidential. Today we’re dipping a toe back in the waters of particular European countries, after a three-month detour in response to COVID-19.

We are looking at Spain and Portugal, which, outside of a couple of prominent foundations and philanthropically-backed projects and publications, have not featured much on the international media philanthropy radar. But this seems to be changing in both countries – and increasingly quickly.

In the last couple of years, and especially during COVID-19, the tone has started to shift, with a number of discussions – public and digital – raising awareness among the journalism sector of media philanthropy as a valid source of funding, as advertising revenue and government support decline. 

We hope that this edition helps to support and advance those discussions, and provides a clear insight into what’s happening in each country. As ever, please send us tips, requests and feedback to info@journalismfundersforum.com@sdp or @bibadk

Finally, we really want to encourage funders in Spain and Portugal (and across Europe) to take part in our JFF survey, to contribute to a better understanding of grantmaking to the media across the continent as a whole.

Thanks and stay safe, 

Sameer and Biba


Media philanthropy in Spain and Portugal

Why cover Spain and Portugal together, beyond the fact they’re neighbours? In both countries, the media philanthropy discussion is only really now getting going meaningfully, outside of a handful of internationally-funded examples. Today we’re going to look at why this is happening, and where things might go.

What do the media environments in these neighbours look like?

Recent reports give us an excellent overview of the media landscape in both countries – from ownership and investment to content and consumption. (A note that Spain boasts a number of internationally-recognised and -connected research departments and researchers focused on the media; likewise Portugal, on a smaller scale.)

Drawing on last month’s Reuters Institute’s (RISJ) Digital News Report (DNR) for Spain (en español), a February 2020 report on how Spanish media are funded from the Center for Data, Media and Society (CMDS) at Central European University, and the 2018 edition of the Media Pluralism Monitor on pluralism and diversity in Spain’s media, here’s a brief summary of the flows and evolving patterns of technology, content and revenue in Spanish media. 

Print, though still powerful, is in decline, both commercial and government advertising and print circulations going down long before COVID-19. There have been waves of journalism startups yielding notable successes in recent years (see SembraMedia’s online directory). Mobile access and consumption of news continue growing rapidly and predominate among younger generations. Subscription and membership models are growing across the market, though the post-COVID economic downturn is likely to affect this.

Television is the key medium, although highly concentrated. The concentration of ownership is a growing problem at all levels in Spanish media. Public media remain beset with issues over underfunding and independence from political interference and capture, despite the best efforts of multi-stakeholder coalitions; and wider concerns about corporations buying coordinated newspaper covers and journalistic self-censorship as a whole remain, with widespread precarity across the media sector, and media tending to be party-politically aligned. While there are centres of innovation in media, the wider media innovation ecosystem doesn’t yet match those in other sectors (see, for example, Telefónica’s Wayra). Finally, as highlighted by the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements in a range of countries, women and minorities (by some estimates around 20% of the population) still face uphill struggles in Spain to gain equitable access, power and representation in the media (which sometimes leads to tragic consequences). 

Similar reports for Portugal – the latest DNRMedia Landscapes, and the 2017 MPM report, for example – show some similar trends, with a number of particularities stemming from a smaller population and economy, a less scalable language, and a more conservative journalistic environment. While the country has the joint-highest trust in media, it is heavily reliant on TV as the main medium, has low and fragmented newspaper circulations (both perhaps results of lower literacy rates, say many commentators), and has a high level of cross-media concentration (with some curious trends of ownership from Angola). Media are less politically polarised than in Spain, though this is beginning to change. Traditional media are under challenge from newer digital media, though again, the media innovation ecosystem is still nascent and underfunded – and very few people are willing to pay for news. In terms of social inclusiveness, as in Spain, both women and minorities face significant barriers to entry and advancement in the media field (although the overall proportion of minorities in Portugal is much lower).

Who’s doing leading-edge public interest journalism in Spain and Portugal?

Spain seems like quite a good place to try to launch new journalism ventures with a public interest focus. Social innovation methods, deliberative democracy, and social movements are not distant or unfamiliar – rather a part of engaged life at the city and national levels. Crowdfunding platforms like Goteo, social innovation groups like Media Lab Prado and x-net, and large-scale processes like Barcelona en Comú attest to this. Through linguistic and post-colonial connections, Spanish public interest media are also increasingly networked with their Latin and North American counterparts.
 
And media crowdfunding campaigns like El Español, experiments with ownership models, and those leaping from mainstream media and starting new ventures have received international recognition and respect. Here’s Colombia’s Fundacion Gabo lauding both transparency and investigative organisation Civio and news startup El Diario as excellent examples of ‘mecenazgo’ or patronage in journalism: Civio for its use of data journalism to expose health inequalities, and El Diario for its twist on the Mediapart model, turning subscribers into members). Other notable sites include the influential El Confidencial, factcheckers Maldita.es, non-profit investigative group porCausa, satirical news site Mongolia, and membership-driven InfoLibre. Co-operatively-owned Revista 5W (another crowdfunding success) shared its unusual model of crowdfunding allowing subscribers and non-subscribers to vote for specific stories. Another co-op, Alternativas Económicas, mirrors similar groups providing accessible and citizen-focused economics news and analysis in France and Italy. Other journalism groups making a difference on particular beats or in particular geographies include the gender-focused Pikara Magazine (mentioned in that self-censorship piece above), Sevilla ActualidadCordópolis, podcast network Cuonda, and Diario Vivo, a live journalism event in the mould of France’s LIVE Magazine or Denmark’s Zetland. 
 
Portugal’s market is, as we’ve noted, a lot smaller, and more fragmented than Spain, and was already facing a bleak future even before one commentator invited readers – as COVID-19 took hold – to “imagine Portugal without journalism”. That said, it also has its fair share of rising media startups and public interest organisations at the local and national levels, including the well-known Público, fact-checkers Polígrafo and Observador, alongside a range of rising groups like Shifter, human rights journalism from QiNewsMediotejoJornal AlmadenseSul Informaçao, nature journalism at A Wilder, and podcasting group Fumaça (which received funding from OSF’s Program on Independent Journalism) – many of these are hosted on Portuguese portal Sapo, giving a boost to their visibility and reach. Finally, the Chicas Poderosas network, which was begun in Latin America by Portuguese journalist Mariana Santos, has outposts in Portugal and Spain, which are collaborating on a MOOC for women journalists, thanks to a Stars4Media grant. (We weren’t able to discern if there are strong connections between Portuguese media and those in Brazil and Lusophone Africa – much analysis seems to think it’s minimal – so let us know!)

Who’s funding the media?

While charitable giving has long and deep roots in both Portugal and Spain, both this and philanthropy have largely been focused on social assistance, rather than on social justice or social change. While this has been changing, alongside the reinvigoration of civil society since the return of democracy to both countries, and many foundations have taken on a wider role more akin to those in, for example, northern Europe or North America, media philanthropy is very rare indeed. It’s so nascent and data are so scarce that it doesn’t yet appear as a search option on fundaciones.es, the online directory of the Asociación Española de Fundaciónes (AEF, Spain’s umbrella organisation for funders) – the excellent CMDS report mentioned above relies on US-based Media Impact Funders’ data, yielding some very odd results, with only one Spanish foundation appearing in its top ten media funders in Spain. This echoes the focus of a 2016 piece by Juanlu Sánchez of Spain’s El Periódico which centred its discussion of media philanthropy entirely on international foundations like Open Society.
 
But as broader discussions of the role of philanthropy in Spain accelerate – as, for example, Forbes España pushes more discussion of contemporary philanthropy – the media philanthropy discussion is being seeded, and in recent months with the coronavirus crisis, accelerated. The AEF picked up on this 2018 Miguel Castro editorial on media philanthropy in El País (republished from Alliance Magazine), and perhaps, with funders like Fundación MarchLa Caixa and Telefónica, can serve as a focal point for discussion in the sector. 
 
It may well give domestic foundations pause for thought that the Google Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund (DNI Fund) gave a number of journalism innovation grants in both Portugal and Spain between 2016 and 2019, and both Google and Facebook have given emergency grants to media in both countries during COVID-19. Philanthropies, as in some other countries, may think more deeply about if and how to fund journalism and media, to ensure that they have some sources of income that are independent of corporate or government interests, and that supplement subscriptions, memberships and donations.
 
Despite relatively low levels of individual charitable giving in Spain, the Spanish public has been one of the most consistent and imaginative funders of journalism in Europe. As we have noted, crowdfunding has helped a number of major new independent digital media in the last few years to raise substantial sums to support new variations on international models of independent digital journalism.
 
Research on philanthropy in Spain – says ERNOP.eu research – is “scarce, mostly unsystematic and still facing conceptual ambiguities.”  The analysis shows that most Spanish foundations are operating foundations, running their own programs, while under one-third use grantmaking as their main tool. (The last few years have seen major growth in social investment approaches too.) The AEF is putting a lot of effort into supporting the modernisation of the sector. The (research and innovation-focused) EUFORI project’s report on Spain says that while the country is a latecomer to philanthropy as it is understood in, for example, Northern Europe, some of its older family foundations have been funding research for decades, and more recently have been supporting a range of innovation work, which could bode well for new thinking in journalism. 
 
Across the border in Portugal, things have their own flavour as recent studies by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and by the EUFORI project show (there’s as yet no ERNOP analysis). Giving to civil society, to social change, is a newer and still uneven phenomenon, but has grown significantly since 1990, with the creation of over 300 new foundations (not perceived entirely positively). Media philanthropy is even more unusual – though in the last couple of years, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has started to give grants for investigative journalism projects (€150k), and the Sindicato dos Jornalistas (Journalists’ Union) held a two-day conference in late 2019 on media funding (do scroll beyond the agenda and look at the range of presentations), involving a range of investors, journalists, researchers and politicians, and Gulbenkian’s Luís Proença (here’s some coverage). Articles exploring the role that philanthropy can play in supporting journalism that benefits the public are beginning to appear. (We’re not sure if the EEA Grants scheme in Portugal is open – as it is in Greece and other countries, for example – to public interest journalism organisations.) We haven’t yet found any signs of a wider follow-up within the Portuguese Foundation Centre or its members, but please do let us know if we’ve missed anything!
 
As the post-COVID era begins to bite in Spain and Portugal, it’s likely these conversations will increase in urgency. It will be fascinating to see how these conversations develop, and what the expertise in Spain and Portugal contributes to similar discussions and developments in other parts of Europe and beyond.

What we’re reading this month

With RightsCon happening at the moment, we’ve had a look at a couple of big announcements related to data and digital rights…

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