In partnership with the International Press Institute (IPI) and Media Impact Funders, GFMD IMPACT organised a roundtable to discuss investing in independent media: its importance to democracy and ways to ensure its long-term financial viability, in light of growing threats to press freedom around the world. The roundtable was organised on the sidelines of the IPI’s 2022 World Congress, which ran from September 8 to 10 at Columbia University.
Why invest in independent media?
For Branko Brkic, editor-in-chief of the Daily Maverik, “supporting quality, independent media is the cheapest investment in democracy”. He called on donors as well as larger, more established media organisations to invest in independent or alternative journalism committed to social transformation.
Sustainable, predictable financing for independent media can allow small organisations in particular, to focus on improving the quality of their journalism, instead of constantly worrying about their bottom line. This, in turn, serves to build and strengthen relations of trust with the wider public in a mutually reinforcing cycle.
How to invest in independent media?
The only way to protect independent editorial policy in any media company, according to Sasa Vucinic, co-founder of North Base Media VC, is to have independent ownership and invest in it. While much of the discussion tended to centre around funding for independent media in the United States, Vučinić added that “the future of independent media is directly proportional to the amount of money that we can raise to make investments in independent media internationally”.
Investing in local journalism
Local journalism is on the frontlines of defending democracy in the United States, said Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder from at the National Trust for Local News. The Trust is investing in local, mostly family-owned media businesses that produce news for local communities.
“Part of what we are trying to do in states around the country is pilot a conservancy model for acquiring small legacy titles, converting them to non-profits where that makes sense, or other mission-aligned structures, and really treating them as the public assets that they are and protecting them from both financial capture, as we’ve seen plenty of in the U.S., and also political capture,” Shapiro said.
Fighting media capture:
Media capture is a real threat to independent media organisations, and it is critical to protect the integrity of their ownership structures so that journalists can do their jobs professionally. In non-democratic contexts or weak or fragile democracies, private investors can intervene to prevent media capture by state-backed cronies, said Harlan Mandel, CEO of the Media Development Investment Fund. MDIF have developed Pluralis, a fund specifically designed to “intervene when a company is under threat of capture by governments and vested interests in Europe.” The aim is to support independent media organisations committed to editorial independence. So far, it has raised $40 million of its $100 million target.
Exploring new funding models
The need to think big was one theme to emerge clearly from the discussion. In the face of disinformation and democratic backsliding in various countries, there is in fact an opportunity for independent media to make a solid case for international donors and private investors.
- Joanna Krawczyk, President of the Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation shared that, from her experience, what local media organisations ask for is not another training workshop on “how to do journalism”; instead they need long-term, predictable financing, seed funding and technology transfers adapted to their needs.
- Carlos Barrionuevo, director of the Boulder, Colorado-based Public Media Company, stressed the importance of evaluating investment models that can work for public media. “There’s this moment in time where we have an opportunity to make sure that we catch these falling organisations,” he said.
- Ford Foundation supports what it calls “equitable media”, meaning news outlets or projects run by or for historically overlooked groups, especially people of colour. “The way we think about investing in journalism is really investing in media as a whole,” Gerald Pambo-Awich, investment officer for Ford Foundation’s mission investments, said.
Share power and collaborate
- Tracie Powell, the founder of the Pivot Fund, also challenged donors and the philanthropic community in the United States to learn to “share power” and look beyond their closed circles.
- Sharon Moshavi, President of International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), encouraged donors to explore opportunities to collaborate with each other and simplify procedures to alleviate the administrative burden on organisations applying for funding.
- For Duc Luu, Director of Sustainability Initiatives/Journalism, Knight Foundation, systemic problems in the media industry – namely financial precarity and limited job prospects – are the source of the problem. The root causes of burn-out can only be resolved by addressing these structural issues in the media industry, added Luu. Media owners and funders need to work together toward transforming the media ecosystem in a way that improves the employment opportunities and working conditions of journalists.
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TO KNOW MORE
- Both philanthropy and private capital have a mutual role to explore and play in terms of catalysing more and better-aligned capital in support of equitable and diverse media. Ford Foundation‘s Investing in Equitable News and Media Projects report examines the infrastructure, capacity-building, and investor pain points that serve as blueprint for those in the field seeking to take actionable and concrete steps to supporting local news and diverse media ecosystems that are sustainable.
- Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) is a unique impact investment fund that provides affordable debt and equity financing and tailored advisory services to help independent media thrive and safeguard their editorial independence. A case study examining MDIF’s approach to investment was published in 2019 by Convergence, the global network for blended finance.
- Local news publishers in the U.S. are getting creative with their ownership structures to avoid buyouts from extractive hedge fund owners and to ask the community to support them as truly local businesses. Knight Foundation‘s article How Creative Ownership Structures Can Help Local News Publishers Stay Local presents their strategies and options.
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