[Cross-posted from the JFF site.]
The long wait is over, dear readers… Oh! How the Journalism Funders Forum newsletter has missed you! But we’re back with a long read to reward you for your patience…
Stay tuned over the coming months for insights into journalism funding in Europe, including:
- A focus on how public interest journalism gets funded in different countries
- Deep-dives into major topics like philanthropy and social investment
- Recommendations of tools, resources, analysis to help you in your work
- And – NEW! – interviews with journalism grantmakers in Europe
Ideas? Feedback? Questions? Just want to say hi? Find us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. And please please please share this newsletter or the sign-up link with peers, colleagues, networks that you think would find it interesting or useful.
SUSTAINABILITY: THE KEY TO MEDIA FREEDOM (& VICE-VERSA)
Journalism – public interest journalism in particular – faces an existential threat, in Europe and beyond. There are many dimensions to this threat, not least backsliding on media freedom, but there’s a growing consensus that, at its root lies the question of the financial sustainability of journalism. Without collective, coordinated effort among diverse stakeholders to vastly improve that sustainability, journalism will weaken and wither, and its power and value to society as a whole will diminish. If those with the power to act do nothing, or too little, the consequences for society and democracy are likely to be ruinous.
It’s true that some parts of the sector in some parts of Europe are surviving, even thriving – there’s a growth in non-profit news organisations, for example, in investigative centres, and in cross-border collaboration – but this can’t mask a broader crisis, including job losses, worsening working conditions, political hostility and increased risks to safety, affecting organisations and individuals throughout the sector. Covid – despite some positives – has only intensified and accelerated these effects.
The JFF community understands the implications for society and democracy of a weakened, threadbare media. But not everyone in wider society gets this. The 2021 Reuters Digital News Report showed the levels of public awareness of this crisis are low in dozens of countries, and levels of support for public intervention to fund commercial news media even lower – which could in part explain why political will to concretely support journalism and media freedom might be lacking.
This is what makes philanthropic support for journalism so pivotal. We all know that philanthropy alone can’t, won’t and indeed shouldn’t ‘save journalism’ – any more than blockchain, Substack or reader revenue alone can – but in concert with others it can certainly play a key and meaningful role in improving the overall enabling environment for journalism to survive, transform and thrive. And in many places this role can be singular, especially where market failure, media capture, the collapse of the old business model, minimal reader revenue, or political hostility to independent media leave journalism without any stable or meaningful sources of income, and in incredibly precarious circumstances.
To understand that role, we need a sense of the big picture of this fiendishly complex sector, of the scale of the challenge, and where philanthropy fits in.
THE CASE FOR A ‘NEW DEAL FOR JOURNALISM’
Inside the journalism/media freedom bubble, it feels like you can’t move these days for reports, handbooks, podcasts or interviews documenting or diagnosing the many threats to the sustainability of journalism. We’re even beginning to see public hearings and legislative or regulatory processes trying to address pieces of the puzzle.In late September, alongside the UN General Assembly in New York, a number of Foreign Ministers spoke at the first Summit for Information and Democracy, in response to two global reports that presented them with a raft of policy options that would contribute to a healthier and more sustainable information ecosystem in many countries.
One of those reports (for which I served as Lead Rapporteur – though I am writing here in a personal capacity) takes a broad, global overview of what can be done and what needs to be done about the sustainability of journalism. We’ll zero in with our predominantly European lens on what this report and its recommendations mean for philanthropy and social investment.
The report was commissioned by the Forum on Information and Democracy, an international entity co-founded by 11 independent organisations, building on an international Declaration on Information and Democracy. The Forum provides policy research, analysis and practical options through reports issued by its Working Groups to a Partnership of (currently) 43 governments. In the run-up to the Summit, the Forum also announced a new civil society Coalition.
The tl;dr version of the report:The Forum’s new global report is calling on governments to implement a ‘A New Deal for Journalism’ – strategic, scaled-up and sustained funding (amounting to 0.1% of GDP) through direct and indirect measures for independent public interest journalism – to ensure its survival and growth over the coming decade. (Here’s the Exec Summary, coverage from Deutsche Welle and Nieman Lab, and an endorsement from a list of incredible luminaries.)
Guided by an independent global Steering Committee chaired by Prof Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, the report is based on direct evidence from more than 50 global experts, and analysis of hundreds of text and other sources. The report showcases measures already supporting media worldwide – like grants, tax policy, investment incentives, competition regulation, reform of government advertising, tighter ownership transparency and financial integrity rules, making it easier to create and run nonprofit and charitable media, strengthening public service media (which are themselves under attack, as CEU reports), and increased international aid – to help both policymakers and in-country advocates to see more clearly what can be achieved in their own particular locations – and what their own local or national version of a New Deal for Journalism might look like.
Rights-respecting governments can do a lot to improve the environment for independent journalism, if they’re minded to. But, as Covid has brought home so starkly, a strong, diverse and independent media needs diverse and independent sources of income and funding in order to be able to navigate the next decade successfully.
Philanthropy and social investment (pp40-43 of the report) play a key role, among the many things they do, both within and across borders (we were particularly struck by how many people mentioned local, city or regional philanthropy as a key partner – more on this next time). There are many places, for example, where government interventions are either untrustworthy or unlikely, where governments are actively hostile to independent journalism and media, or where they or their allies threaten or throttle other sources of media revenue or funding. Even where such concerns are less pronounced, philanthropy and social investment can provide an agile, independent and expert counterweight to or partner for the large-scale funding the report demands from governments.
So what can philanthropy and social investment do?
A lot of evidence we took was critical of philanthropy. We think this is a good sign. At a time when there is greater pressure and scrutiny on grantmaking than ever, in terms of how it deals with equity, with its legacy, with changing expectations of power imbalances and so on, the evidence and feedback we received was thoughtful, considered, constructive, and consistent.
The Forum’s New Deal report makes several recommendations directly to philanthropy and to social investment – we’ve summarised the most pressing ones here. Maybe you could to print off the list and do a quick audit of your own funding (or funders’) practices…(let us know if you do):
- Provide multi-year grants, not one year; prefer core/unrestricted funding over project funding; and reduce reporting burdens. In many cases this helps build long-term resilience and independence and both reduces perceptions of undue influence and improves organisations’ resistance to capture.
- Provide (and prioritise) funding for business and organizational development – many said that hiring in finance or business development expertise was more effective for long-term survival (and safety) than funding editorial content or training – and can also be done by working with expert investors.
- Find mechanisms to fund for-profit public interest media, as well as continuing to support and advocate for nonprofit or charitable media. Many funders think that they can’t or shouldn’t fund for-profit media at all, but they are a critical part of an independent, healthy, diverse media sector.
- Also fund the layer of private and civil society organisations that supports, networks and advocates for media freedom and the independent public interest media sector. They provide infrastructure, data, training, legal support, policy research and advocacy, and many other services that help it to have a strong collective voice, and to make sure its needs and concerns don’t fall off the agenda – like those joining together as The New Sector. Don’t forget those trying to defend public service media or to reform state media.
- And as ever, pay attention to the broader information ecosystem – things are more blurred and interdependent than ever, and lawyers, FOI advocates, consumer rights champions, librarians and many others working to uphold public interest information are important allies who also need support.
- Knowing what is and, crucially, what isn’t being funded – as long as it doesn’t place people at risk – is vital both for the sector and its funders. Not enough funders are providing their grants data as open, structured data, in a standardised form that others can make use of – even the big tech companies that also give funding to journalism. Using open standards like 360Giving or semi-open repositories like Candid helps everyone in the sector be a little more evidence-based, more strategic, more transparent and more accountable.
- Making sure that the application, shortlisting and selection processes for grants are accessible, transparent and independent is key for building and maintaining confidence in your grantmaking. One way to do this – something many already do – is to involve and empower diverse external independent experts in checking applicants’ eligibility, and in shortlisting and selection processes.
- We know that funders involved in journalism funding find it helpful to be able to turn to peers and colleagues for advice. But while peer groups for current or curious funders are beginning to emerge – like the JFF, Germany’s Expertisekreis, the Independent Media and Journalism community in Ariadne, and the US-based Media Impact Funders – groups for journalism funders and investors at the local and national levels have been slow to emerge in many countries in Europe. Not only can these drive peer learning, funder collaboration, and bring new donors to the field, but they can also pool data, research and evidence, and develop a persuasive collective voice. If you’re forming, or thinking about forming a group for journalism funders in your country or area, please do get in touch – we’d love to know more, and to help, if we can.
Collaborate and diversify
Another key finding of the report is that collaboration between different kinds of money with diverse aims and methods can bring new ideas, expertise and assets, and help to pool risk.
Specifically in relation to investment, it was clear that some investors are beginning to understand that investing in media is no longer a lost cause, that there are parts of the sector in which there is money to be made, and that through collaboration with philanthropies and other public interest funders (including some governments, or funds like Invest-EU), they can make a contribution to media independence and their ESG targets:
- Philanthropy, by participating in e.g. media-focused blended finance investment vehicles and accepting a lower or zero return, can help to unlock higher rates of return for commercial or traditional investors. Other options include social impact bonds, match-funding, participating in pooled funds, and contributing to international and regional and subnational funds.
- Build public interest-driven investment vehicles in order to buy stakes in media companies, as the French organisation Un Bout des Médias is trying to do; or even to persuade neglectful for-profit owners (or incentivise them through tax write-offs) to sell or transfer local media to philanthropy-backed public-interest/mission-driven investors, as the US-based National Trust for Local News has done this year.
- Provide and increase access to capital (grants and investment) and specific incentives for journalism founders and investors from diverse, historically marginalized, systematically underfunded backgrounds, or with a public service or interest focus – or for those in countries or regions where there is little independent capital or funding (and we know there are many, many such gaps in Europe).
Finally, a number of policy issues affecting journalism philanthropy and investment came up. There are numerous examples of negative trends that it’s hard to push back on: misuse of restrictions on cross-border funding or investment caps, forcing recipients to declare and register funding and investment from abroad, stigmatising both funders and recipients as ‘foreign agents’, arbitrary and short-notice changes to the rules over grantmaking and investing. Hanna Surmatz and Anna Korzeniewska explain how a single market for philanthropy in the EU might help, and borderless giving projects are starting to emerge, e.g. the King Baudoin Foundation’s Myriad.
Advocating for focused policy change in some areas could also help funders: the need for new organisational forms for journalism, including formalisation and protection of charitable and nonprofit status for journalism organisations, and the creation of hybrid for- and non-profit structures, or the promotion of cooperative and community ownership. Making collective representations to government or regulators on this is in the interests of both journalism and of funders.
All in all, there’s plenty of room for philanthropic and social investment funders to engage with, and even give momentum to, the idea of a New Deal for Journalism. This roundtable on philanthropy and the sustainability of journalism at the recent IPI World Congress had far better and more eloquent speakers than I turned out to be, and is well worth taking time to engage with, even if you only have time for their 10 takeaways.
For our inaugural JFF funder interview, we spoke with Marie-Laure Muchéry and Ekaterina Mandova at European pooled fund Civitates, which started in 2017 as a response to negative trends in the democratic space in Europe.
Here are the top 5 insights Marie-Laure and Ekaterina had to share:
- Civitates focuses on two key challenges across Europe: first, how to protect civic space and the enabling environment for civil society organizations; and second, how to protect the information sphere, so citizens have access to reliable information, can make informed decisions and participate in democracy and society.
- Funders participate in Civitates for different reasons: some to extend their geographical reach, some to get familiarity with new topics, some to show solidarity, and others to learn from different methods and approaches. For funders that have not funded journalism before, says, Ekaterina, “it allows them to be part of a group and to make decisions together, not to try the water for the first time on your own.”
- Few public interest media organisations have yet found viable business models that allow them to stay independent and to survive, says Marie-Laure. The journalism sub-fund does not fund their journalism – instead it’s designed to support the “unglamorous” (Marie-Laure’s word!) but essential work of organisational strengthening. And because “we know that this organisational strengthening won’t happen in just a few months,” Civitates decided to give multi-year core funding, not short-term project funding.
- Final funding decisions – deeply informed by a multidisciplinary expert group – were made on a combination of local media landscapes and conditions for journalists, on journalistic excellence, and where Civitates’ support will make the biggest difference (for some organisations, says Ekaterina, “it can be life-saving”).
- There’s no single answer to all the problems of journalism, and Civitates can’t fund all applicants, but, says Ekaterina, core support is absolutely key. “It gives organisations breathing space, time to experiment, so a business model can emerge, and this can be a great example for other organisations struggling with the same problems.”
As a funder or researcher, understanding in greater detail how journalism or media organisations and economies work can really enrich your work. There’s a lot to keep up with, and many specialised resources for advanced users, but for the generalist, introductory or accessible resources have been lacking, until recently.
Over the past year or two, a number of guides to setting up, resourcing and running independent journalism and media companies have emerged, all illuminating for those funding – or curious about funding – journalism. And as expertise is increasingly globally available, we’ve picked out a diverse selection from around the world to get you started:
- Singapore-based Splice Media have released an ingenious primer for people starting media companies: the audio-only School of Splice, which has a free/open tier, and an in-depth paid-for tier (for which you need to apply)
- The Fix, based in Eastern Europe, have a rich strand of articles and reports on organisation-building in the media sector, including a recent focus on human resources (one of the unsexy and underfunded areas we’ve talked about before)
- 444.hu’s Peter Erdelyi wrote a paper on a Fellowship at the Reuters Institute on “how to get readers in Central and Eastern Europe and the Global South to pay for public service journalism”
- From Start to Success, a recent Deutsche Welle Akademie handbook, written by digital media entrepreneurs for digital media entrepreneurs, is part of a suite of tools and reports on media viability
- The new report from Australia’s Judith Neilson Institute on News In Asia has a particularly clear and practical section from Ross Settles (formerly of investors MDIF) on how media companies make money in Southeast Asia (with lots of relevance for Europe)
- Yes, US investigative nonprofit ProPublica is bigger and in a better-funded market than any peers in Europe, but outgoing President/CEO Richard Toeffel distils years of invaluable experience into this set of lessons.
- Community member and journalism expert Corinne Podger reminds us of other groups sharing expertise about business models, including Media Voices, Twipe, The Local Fix, LION, FIPP, and the News Product Alliance, among many others (let us know your recommendations too!)
- It’s also important to think about grantmaking practices too – JFF has served as a forum for thinking about journalism grantmaking since its founding. But the new book Modern Grantmaking by Gemma Bull and Tom Steinberg provides a wider, almost experiential view on philanthropic practice as a whole. The authors have recently run scenario sessions for grantmakers walking them through funding worst-practices based on real grantee experiences, that some – JFF members included – found embarrassingly familiar.
- Finally, one of the best ways of understanding both the immense challenges and possibilities in the journalism field right now is to start something yourself (we are living in the Passion Economy, after all). Perhaps you’re thinking of starting – or revamping – your own newsletter… in which case Dan Oshinsky’s Not A Newsletter, published as a monthly Google Doc, is an excellent read and resource – you’ll always find the most current edition here.
That’s all for this edition.
See you next time.
[You can read the emailed version of this edition here.]