Emergency funding for Covid-affected newsrooms

This is what some donors and media support organizations are doing to help.

This is a summary of our Splice Low-Res event about emergency funding for covid-affected newsrooms. What money is out there? And how do you ask for it? This is meant for newsrooms and journalists looking for financial support this year.

We spoke with Prue Clarke of the Judith Neilson Institute, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Lars Bestle of International Media Support, Alex Fenby of Facebook, and Shuwei Fang of Open Society Foundations.

Takeaways

  • Open Society Foundations has a fund for short-term and urgent needs, and one for longer-term strategies that elevate civic society in the global South
  • The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism launched the Independent News Emergency Relief Coordination, which collects data on the crises that media organizations are facing, and helps funders make decisions about where their money could go. 
  • International Media Support is keen to build a publicly available database of media startups — for investors and startups looking for funding, academics and researchers, and cross-country collaboration
  • Facebook has a $2 million fund for APAC media startups 
  • Judith Nielsen Institute has a budget of $70 million for journalism largely focused on Australia

 

Context

Open Society Foundations

Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) mission is to celebrate vibrant, tolerant societies that are accountable to their citizens. Shuwei Fang, a program officer at OSF’s Program on Independent Journalism, explains that they’ve reorganized funds to make them available during the crisis. During Covid, OSF has made $130 million available in central reserves from existing budgets, redistributing grants that can no longer happen due to the pandemic.

Fang explains they’re disbursing the funds across two phases:

  • Urgent issues, including helping a publication keep the lights on and equipping emergency frontline workers with PPE and other equipment 
  • Long-term strategies that aim to elevate civic society in the global South, with the goal of keeping people engaged as COVID-19 restrictions lift

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism 

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) is a research center and think tank for journalism. Director Rasmus Klein Nielsen is prescriptive about the journalism industry, which he believes has been suffering for a very long time — he warns of a coming extinction event. “There won’t be a long-term if there isn’t a short term,” he added, describing a double-digit billion dollar decline in 2020.

Nielsen adds that strong journalism is important for the backbone of society. “Informed people make better decisions on the basis of their values, their aspirations, their goals,” he said

In response to Covid, RISJ launched the Independent News Emergency Relief Coordination (INERC). 

  • INERC’s mission is to collect data on the crises that media organizations are facing, and to help funders make decisions about where their money could go. 
  • One aim is to cover the range of media publications that require funding — not just the ones that require the most attention 
  • RISJ is creating a forum to help funders coordinate with each other
  • “If we don’t invest in the infrastructure that enables free information around this crisis, we will be worse off.”

International Media Support

International Media Support (IMS) supports local media in countries affected by armed conflict, human insecurity, and political transition. According to Lars Bestle, the Asia Head of Department, public interest journalism in Asia is limited. Many places are more interested in serving the interests of the “power-holders, the military, the government, the politicians.”

Yet, IMS found a forest of media startups underneath who still cared about the public interest mission — and they needed tools for resilience and survival. Spurred by Covid, IMS wants to create a publicly available database of media startups. The database can be used by:

  • Startups looking for funding and investors looking for opportunities
  • Academics and researchers looking for data on media
  • Cross-country collaborators, and those who want to launch media workshops 

Facebook

“News media plays an incredibly important role [at Facebook] in terms of what connects and what matters,” explained Alex Fenby, who leads news partnerships at Facebook. Fenby’s team has three roles: it works with news partners on strengthening the performance of their businesses on Facebook, launching strategic product initiatives like videos, instant articles, and in-stream advertisements, and helps with integrity and fact-checking. 

Recent news partnership initiatives in Asia include Schwartz Media in Melbourne, which saw the clickthrough rate to its subscription site jump by 500% after Facebook reviewed the positioning and design of the various call to actions. Another revenue modeling workshop helped Schwartz Media’s membership sign ups surge 250%. 

During Covid, Facebook has:

  • Promised a $2 million investment to support APAC newsrooms during the pandemic
  • Delivered a webinar on virtual content creation for the International Center for Journalists
  • Helped publications directly impacted by the loss of ad revenue find new alternatives — like building a frictionless buy flow
  • Launched a digital media bootcamp to help journalists who are working from home during Covid 
  • Measuring the impact of these initiatives by seeing how their partners thrive on and off the website

Judith Neilson Institute

The Judith Neilson Institute (JNI) champions quality journalism and storytelling in Australia and around the world through grants, education programs and events. Much of that is focused on building steady, reliable business models. “I’ve been very critical of media development agencies in the aid world for not understanding how important the business model is,” Prue Clarke, JNI’s Senior Executive Officer, said.

Clarke fills us in on the Australian media landscape — which she says is so often in a silo, separate from Asia.

  • JNI has a budget of $70 million for journalism largely focused on Australia
  • They fly journalists into Asia to help build better connections

Meghna is a writer in New York. Previously, she helped launch and was the managing editor of New York-based The Juggernaut, worked as a researcher at CB Insights, and reported on tech out of Bangalore for Tech in Asia. Follow Meghna Rao on Twitter.

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