JFF #022 – The Power of Place in journalism funding

[Cross-posted from JFF.]

Welcome to the latest edition of the JFF newsletter.

Sincere thanks to those who’ve been sharing the newsletter and the signup link with colleagues and peers – as this is an open access newsletter, making sure it reaches as many of those thinking about funding journalism as possible makes a huge difference.

In today’s edition:

  • A focus on place-based funding of journalism
  • An interview with James McGowan of ECFI on community foundations and journalism
  • Resources: diagnosing democracy disorders…
  • A feature on investigative journalism at the local level




In what is one of the most significant things to happen to independent journalism in a very long time, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to independent journalists Maria Ressa (Rappler, Philippines) and Dmitry Muratov (Novaya Gazeta, Russia).

In the words of the Committee: “[Ressa and Muratov] are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal [of freedom of expression] in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.”

Muratov himself said, in an interview with Meduza (Russian version) that “This prize belongs to my lost colleagues, who gave their lives for people, who fought against dictatorship, who stood up for freedom of speech.”

Ressa, who was recently announced as Co-Chair of the International Fund for Public Interest Media, has become, said the Norwegian MP who nominated her, “a symbol and a representative of thousands of journalists around the world.”

Let’s hope this is a sign of the tide beginning to turn both for the laureates, and for those thousands of their undaunted peers worldwide – and that it further emboldens those who support them, including funders and investors…


The Power of Place

Talking of funders and investors, last week I was in Vienna, Austria, at the European Foundation Centre conference (yes, an actual, real-life, in-person conference!), where the theme of independent public interest journalism and how it gets funded was high on the agenda (more on this in a later edition).

It was, for many, their first time back at a conference with professional peers, after 18 months decoupled from the logic of workplaces, commuting and international travel. It was a reminder of how rich it can be to gather together, to allow the serendipity of proximity, the power of place to work its magic (in a Covid-safe way, of course…).

During those 18 months, for millions of us, our relationship with place has changed, rebalanced, intensified. We have had to get to know our own localities or communities a lot better, or may have moved in search of better life-balance, to have more space, to be nearer to family.

Place matters, and crucial in our sense of place is knowing what is going on, having quality information, and not just during a health crisis of this kind.

Since our first newsletter in 2019, we’ve looked at a lot of local journalism initiatives and the crisis in local news, journalism and information ecosystems (with IPI’s local media and democracy research the latest addition) – but an area we have perhaps neglected is the many funders and investors who focus on a specific area, city, or region, or, as we’ll call them here, place-based funders. The New Deal report we covered in our last edition makes it clear that such funders, investors, even authorities all have a key role to play in the future of public interest journalism – and in today’s edition we’re going to spotlight a few of them.



There is a lot of place-based philanthropy and funding in Europe. There’s a growing body of analysis of place-based giving and philanthropy in general (here’s a 2017 international overview from Lankelly Chase Foundation, for example), but… there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of digestible, accessible analysis of place-based philanthropy for journalism and media in Europe.

Anecdotally we know place-based funding of media is happening all the time. Here at JFF, we’ve talked about versions of it, from community foundations, to what interviewees referred to as the campanilismo of some Italian foundations, the work of regional and city foundations in Germany, but we have yet to find compelling data or analyses.

We could run queries on 360Giving’s GrantNav database, but this covers mainly UK funders and funding, for now, and, as we’ve noted before, tagging of journalism grants varies in its accuracy. When it comes for the investment field, for-profits and startups, there is more coverage, data and analysis (here’s Sifted, for example), and in the area of media clusters too (e.g. in BrusselsNorway, and Wales). A couple of weeks ago it was European Week of Regions and Cities, including dozens of sessions on a range of topics pertinent to places, but with nothing on journalism, media or local information ecosystems.

It seems that, in order to get more systematic knowledge and analysis, we have to turn in this case beyond Europe to the US and Australia.

[A plea: If you know of in-depth, rigorous resources, research, or analysis on place-based funding for journalism, media or information ecosystems in Europe, please let us know.]

Place-based media funding in the USA

A recent article in the Guardian about the local journalism funding ecosystem in and around the city of Chicago illustrates the sheer difference with Europe in the magnitude and variety of funding available – even if still below what many there would like to see – in many parts of the USA. While we may be able to ascribe some of this to the better-funded public service media infrastructure and universal service obligations in parts of Europe, that’s only part of the picture.

The Knight Foundation famously has specific communities in which it works.The Democracy Fund, mentioned in the Chicago piece, released this excellent report helping national funders develop place-based approaches to support local journalism ecosystems. Others include the Wyncote Foundation, which has published two reports on place based funding of media and journalism – on innovative foundation-funded projects, and on media and cultural expression. More general guides on deciding whether place-based funding is the way to go include this from the Milken Institute, which also outlines how place-based giving dovetails well with the collective impact approach.

Focusing on local media funding in Australia

In the wake of multiple crises – most recently Covid – affecting particularly smaller, independent, regional and diverse Australian media, some with deep pockets are making interventions at the local level. While these may not be strictly place-based approaches, they spotlight the challenges faced by local and regional media.

The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation for example recently announced a new stream of funding for rural and regional media, in partnership with the Guardian Australia and the Centre for Media Transition in Sydney. And in the wake of the News Bargaining Code, Facebook has partnered with the Walkley Foundation to provide grants to regional public interest newsrooms.

Examples from Europe

We’d like to look more systematically at how place interacts with journalism and funding in Europe in the future, and to bring more funders and investors – including public authorities like mayoralties – together to discuss place-based approaches. Please do contact us with examples of funders at the local, regional, canton, Land, city level who are supporting journalism, media and information ecosystems.

In the meantime, here are three European funders we’ve not mentioned before who have funded media in a place-based way:

We know this is just the tip of the iceberg, so if you work for or know a place-based funder in Europe funding journalism and media, we’d love to hear from you… And likewise if you know of or are doing research into this kind of funding, get in touch at info@journalismfundersforum.com.



We’re thrilled to bring the JFF community into conversation with the community foundation sector, a key part of the philanthropic landscape. James McGowan of the European Community Foundation Initiative helped us understand better the sector & its relationship with information & media.

Here are 5 key quotes from our interview with James, which we’ll post in full later this week:

  1. When you’ve seen one community foundation, you’ve seen one community foundation,” says James – they’re so diverse in form and function that it’s hard to generalise about the sector.
  2. “Lockdown made us have this sense of place because we were locked into place, and people started to re-engage a bit more with their communities. Community foundations played the role of encouraging and supporting people to better understand the quality of the environment within which they live and act.”
  3. “Community foundations encourage and promote a sense of place, and identity associated with place, and, critically, transcend the other differences that exist in terms of economic and social status, and wellbeing and the diversity that exists within that place. Community foundations are key because they address this intersectionality as it affects people’s lives in their locality.”
  4. While community foundations in some places might look very much like traditional philanthropic institutions, “in Central and Eastern Europe you see a completely different type of operation, driven by young people, activists, from the community – really diverse and engaged.
  5. Information and journalism are fundamental to community foundations, says James, but “the community foundation needs a critical mass itself in order to have the authority to be able to convene or engage with media.”

Read the full interview with James McGowan of ECFI soon here…


RESOURCES: Moving from diagnosing to discussing to defending democracy

While the journalism funding sector often talks about the the ‘media’ bit in the relationship between media and democracy, we sometimes neglect to talk enough about the ‘democracy’ bit. Concern about the increasing fragility of democracy has been building over many years, reinforced by the democratic recession and rising authoritarianism captured in a range of democracy studies like those of EIUFreedom HouseV-DEMIDEA and the Democracy Perception Index, alongside more focused recent studies like this from Robert Bosch Stiftung and More In Common (English version). Some say there’s been more than enough diagnosis, and that it’s time for philanthropy to take more drastic action. This plain-speaking blog post recently caused a stir in US philanthropy networks, for example, by calling for an end to philanthropy’s ‘toxic intellectualising,’ and caused ripples during the recent EFC conference too. That said, diagnostic tools and indices can help persuade decision-makers to unlock greater resources to protect and promote democracy, and by extension the enabling environment for journalism and media. Non-media reports and indices we’ve found helpful include:

Let us know what we missed and we’ll post the full list to the site soon:

These diagnoses and concerns have led to an upsurge in discussions, conferences and alliances for democracy in its various forms, from the neighbourhood to the nation-state, at least some of which we hope will lead to a material change in circumstances and funding for those defending democracy, including independent journalism. Here’s a small selection of those we think most relevant to the JFF community:

  • The European Partnership for Democracy‘s Democracy Week in September included a discussion of the role of independent media in democracy in Europe and the European Neighbourhood
  • JFF members who do, think about and support journalism can feed in to the surveys from EPD member ALDA, the Alliance for Local Democracy in Europe, feeding into the Civil Society Convention on the Future of Europe
  • The US Government’s global Summit for Democracy on Dec 9/10 opens a ‘year of action’, which we hope will include announcements of concrete funding commitments from governments in support of independent media🤞 – like those mentioned in the New Deal report, or the report of the Democracy Taskforce.
  • The 2021 Copenhagen Democracy Summit addressed disinformation and technology, but not independent journalism and media – an omission we hope will be remedied next year
  • A host of other meetings and conferences have focused on aspects of democracy – last year’s St Gallen Symposium covered trust, including in democracy and information, and CEU’s Democracy Institute held a 2-day summit earlier this month on Probing Democracy. And more detail on the Democracy track of last week’s EFC conference is here.
  • And some are looking at the health of their democracy sector – this UK research shows its sector is ‘small, under-funded and fragmented’ – with clear need for greater collaboration and coordination, as well as greater agency for communities at the neighbourhood level.


JFF’s Algirdas Lipstas on local nodes in crossborder journalism

There can be few readers unfamiliar with the three biggest investigations in journalism history – starting in 2016 with the Panama Papers, exposing tax crimes committed via off-shore tax havens, with the Paradise Papers a year later exposing creative ways that multinational companies use to avoid tax, and in 2021, the Pandora Papers showed how the international tax system allows the wealthy to hide their wealth, thus perpetuating and deepening inequality. Each investigation was a mammoth global effort, coordinated by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – the Pandora Papers involved 150 news outlets and more than 600 journalists from 117 countries and territories, collaboratively sifting through terabytes of data and millions of documents and records to find and follow leads that reveal the secret deals and hidden assets of, among others, more than 330 politicians and high-ranking public officials.

What’s particularly extraordinary about these cross-border collaborations, and others like them, is that they involve media of all kinds – not only internationally renowned newspapers like Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde, El Pais, Gazeta Wyborcza and the Guardian and globally respected public service broadcasters like the BBC, but also a host of smaller national and local non-profit investigative reporting centres, including, among many others, Oštro (Slovenia and Croatia), RISE (Romania and Moldova), Direkt 36 (Hungary), Investigative Reporting Project Italy, Finance Uncovered (UK), Siena (Lithuania), Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism, and Re:Baltica (Latvia). Since this edition is looking at the local, we couldn’t let the occasion pass without recognising both the essential work of these – and many other – public interest investigative reporting centres, and the crucial role of donor support over the past decade in their development. Most of them are non-profit, operating on modest, even shoestring budgets (although there are several similar centres that operate as for-profits.) Alongside other independent investigative centres like The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (UK), Correct!v (Germany), and Disclose (France), the specialised, in-depth local knowledge of such centres is pivotal to the success of the international investigative journalism ecosystem.


That’s all for today’s edition… As ever, we’re delighted to hear from you – let us know by email or on social what you liked, what you didn’t, what you’d like more of, and what we missed. 

Until next time, stay safe, and keep sharing the newsletter & sign-up link


You can read the emailed version of this edition here.

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