Philanthropic support for media and journalism has been growing in recent years and is seen as a way to strengthen democracy and civic engagement. However, there are still many challenges and opportunities for both funders and recipients of this support. On 28 April Philea in collaboration with GFMD organised the 13th edition of “Philanthropy for Ukraine” sessions with a focus on journalism in the context of the war. During the sessions, four Ukrainian media experts shared their insights on the challenges and opportunities for international donors to support the media.
Ievgeniia Oliinyk, Program Director of the Media Development Foundation, shared about the MDF’s experience of collaborating with local media outlets by presenting the main findings of their new annual research on the state of local news outlets in Ukraine. The report shows that regional media have survived and resisted the war, despite the massive staff turnover, the constant threat of violence, the propaganda and misinformation, and the lack of resources. The MDF report also praises the role of regional journalists in documenting war crimes, debunking fake news, telling human stories, and helping Ukrainians stay sane and informed. It calls for more support and solidarity from the international community, the government, and civil society to protect and empower regional media as a vital pillar of democracy and peace. Ievgeniia also highlighted the importance of avoiding news deserts in Ukraine and providing additional support to the regions with such a tendency.
Discussing the state of the media at a national scale, Andrey Boborykin, Executive Director of Ukrainska Pravda, shared the newspaper’s experience. He noted that advertising spending across Ukraine has declined due to the economic crisis and the war. This has forced Ukrainska Pravda to fundraise with the international donor community, which was not something that they were actively involved in before the war.
The media viability concept has to be rethought in the context of Ukraine, where media outlets face economic hardships and need to adapt to a changing and challenging environment, noted Olga Myrovych, the CEO of Lviv Media Forum. She argued that supporting the Ukrainian media is vital for the country’s recovery and justice and that the international community should recognize and amplify the voice of Ukrainian journalists and editors. Olga also addresses the issue of mental health among journalists in Ukraine, who have been exposed to trauma due to the ongoing war. In particular, Lviv Media Forum has offered psychological support to more than 150 media professionals to help them cope and restore their psychological resilience.
Continuing the discussion on the main issues that affect the media industry in Ukraine, Jakub Parusinski, Co-founder and Editor of The Fix Media, and CFO of The Kyiv Independent, highlighted that one of the main problems that media organizations in Ukraine encounter is the lack of qualified journalists, editors, project managers, sales managers and other media professionals. The current generation of journalists has suffered a significant attrition rate due to psychological breakdown, volunteering causes, frontline work, and the inability to work in the sector. This problem is exacerbated by a demographic problem in Ukraine, with only a quarter of a million graduates a year, down by half from over half a million in 2010. How can media organizations overcome this shortage? Jakub suggests that shared service centres could be a solution. He also argues that the media themselves should invest in training programs, work with universities, and create career development opportunities for their staff.
Another challenge that media organizations face is how to reintegrate veterans as content creators, audiences, and workers. Jakub Parusinski believes that media can play a vital role in helping veterans reintegrate into society. A third issue that media organisations have to deal with is how to connect with the millions of Ukrainians who had to flee abroad. Parusinski argues that the media has a significant responsibility to preserve Ukrainian culture and ties within Ukrainian communities and fight against Russia’s attempt to destroy it.
Based on their experience of being a recipient of media support, speakers shared their ideas and advice on how philanthropic or foundation support for media and journalism could be improved:
- Reduce bureaucracy and increase flexibility. Jakub Parusinski says anything that reduces bureaucracy is a good thing, as many media outlets have to hire fundraisers and grant managers to deal with the administrative burden of applying for and reporting on grants. He suggests that funders should simplify their application and reporting processes and allow more room for adaptation.
- Consider flexible long-term funding for local media. Olga Myrovich noted that short-term grants with extensive reporting procedures are not suitable for many media outlets, especially local ones, which have limited managerial capacity and face financial insecurity. In this case, long-term funding with flexible conditions is more sustainable and allows media outlets to focus on their core mission and audience.
- Support capacity building and education. Many media outlets in Ukraine, especially local ones, lack the skills and knowledge to manage their organizations effectively, diversify their revenue streams, and engage with their audiences. Olga says that funders should support educational programs that work with the management of local media outlets, as well as media support organizations that can provide mentoring, training, and networking opportunities. Ievgeniia Oliiynyk echoes this point, saying that supporting educational programs that work with community leaders is essential, as they can help local media outlets improve their governance, editorial standards, and business models.
- Fund more research. Jakub highlights that more data-driven decision-making for donors and media support organisations would be better.
- Consider the local context and needs. Ievgeniia says that funders should be more aware of the local context and needs of the media outlets they support. Funders should listen to the media outlets and their audiences, and tailor their support accordingly. It is important to make individual direct connections with both local media and civil society sector organisations, to have a better understanding.
- Coordinate and avoid duplication. Andrey Boborykin agrees, saying that funders should be more strategic and collaborative in their support for media and journalism, and coordinate with other donors and stakeholders to avoid duplication or fragmentation of efforts.
- Support programmes safeguarding culture in the media. Andrey points out that while there are some programmes from various foundations that aim to decolonize Ukrainian culture or support Ukrainian artists, the media are largely missing from this perspective. He adds that he has not seen a programme about Ukrainian culture in the media for a long time. Jakub agrees that media play a crucial role in documenting and disseminating Ukrainian culture, especially in the context of the war. Olga emphasizes that niche media outlets are often overlooked by donors, although they have a lot of potential in terms of promoting the narrative and reaching out to audiences abroad.