Coming to the end of 2020, I think it’s fair to say that many of us are eager to turn the page with hopes of a better year to come. As this newsletter goes out, we are close to the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. It feels that way metaphorically, as we pass the grim milestone of 300,000 souls lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. And that’s not just a number. Many of us have been touched by the virus personally, among staff and on the Board of Directors of Media Impact Funders, as well as many in our network. Recently, we read the heartbreaking story of loss written by MIF member John Bare, vice president at the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, who shared the touching and painful journal of the death of his beloved wife, Betsy, in September. Along with all of our colleagues, we extend our condolences to John and his family.
At the same time, we appreciate the other aspect of the solstice: every day after brings a little more light. And we are encouraged by the arrival of effective anti-viral vaccines and the optimism that many feel with the approach of a new administration in Washington; one that will elevate the role of science and the importance of evidence-based information and respect for the role of a free press in a healthy democracy.
Here at MIF, we are thankful for the opportunity to have been able to work on meaningful programs throughout this past difficult year. And we have been constantly heartened by the impressive efforts supported by our members and carried out by their grantees. Through all of the challenging moments of the past year—not only a deadly global pandemic, but also a profound reckoning for racial justice—foundations and other donors have stepped up to provide immediate relief for communities and resources to strengthen vital journalism efforts.
Thinking back to the beginning of the year, we were fortunate to experience a flurry of trips to hear from remarkable storytellers, whose ideas have echoed in our programs during the remaining months.
In January, at the National Geographic Storytellers Summit, we heard from Evgenia Arbugaeva, about her efforts to capture the stark beauty of her native Arctic homeland and images of a stoic couple, in their isolated existence collecting meteorological data. Looking back, Evgenia’s imagery of a life in isolation foreshadowed our own experiences, as every family faced some degree of isolation in the lockdowns and quarantines of life during a pandemic.
We also heard from National Geographic photojournalist Pete Muller, who shared his observations on the deep sense of loss that many people feel, as they lose their homes to the various ravages of climate change—a phenomenon he calls “solastalgia.” Muller later shared a version of this presentation at our annual Media Impact Forum, which focused on media and stories about the crisis of climate change and the impacts on humans and the natural world.
On our annual pilgrimage to Sundance, we shared our own important new report on developments in the field of media impact assessment, Decoding Media Impact. And we also heard from filmmakers Shalini Kantayya and Jeff Orlowski, about their new films “Coded Bias” and “The Social Dilemma,” both of which raise critical questions about problems associated with Big Tech. And recently, we invited both of these talented storytellers to help us explore these issues further, as we kicked off a three-part series of programs on problems of Big Tech and their potential solutions.
At this year’s edition of the Frank Gathering, we were pleased to introduce our longtime friend Thomas Allen Harris, as he led the audience in a great exercise of sharing personal stories and deepening empathy and understanding. And we also learned about cutting edge research on how best to convey complex information to different audiences in hopes of persuading them to accept challenging ideas – and we invited several of these researchers to share their wisdom with our Media Impact Forum.
At this year’s forum we were also very fortunate to hear from legendary actor and activist Jane Fonda, as she reflected on the related crises of climate change and the reckoning for racial justice, in a program that also included an enlightening interview of marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, both conducted by journalist Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now!”
As we come to the end of the year, we fully expect and encourage folks to take a well-deserved break from work.
At the same time, if you find yourself with a bit of free time over the holidays, we would encourage you to go back to view some of these presentations and discussions, which you may have been unable to appreciate before now, due to the day-to-day demands of our busy lives.
And we look forward to seeing you and serving you with fresh and exciting programs in January.
Warm holiday regards and good cheer for the new year.