Last week, MIF hosted a funder discussion exploring international philanthropic responses to COVID-19. The conversation served as an opportunity to learn what organizations are doing to sustain critical public interest information needs around the world.

We co-hosted the call with the Journalism Funders Forum (JFF), a network of philanthropic organizations whose goal is to ensure more effective and impactful funding of media journalism in Europe. JFF is similar to MIF, “but a lot newer,” said Biba Klomp, Project Manager at the European Journalism Centre, which organizes JFF. Here are a few highlights from the call:

Sameer Padania, co-director of Macroscope, gave us an overview of the European media philanthropy situation amid the coronavirus. “Philanthropic engagement is growing at the European level, but emergency response capacity, with respect to journalism and media, is quite limited,” Padania said. He added that conversations about media and journalism have shifted quite quickly to the future.

“What can be done in the future and what new creative solutions can spring from the funding that funders are able to provide? There’s an appetite to catalyze, come up with new models and meet information needs in the future.”

Meeting future information needs is a topic Luminate has been researching heavily over the last year, and the culmination of that research resulted in an announcement this week of the International Fund for Public Interest Media. Nishant Lalwani, managing director at Luminate, shared details about the fund, including how it would support the development, sustainability and independence of public interest media around the world. Luminate is halfway to its goal of $1 million in set-up funding. (Luminate will also be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 5, to discuss the fund and the findings of the study.)

Lalwani also shared Luminate’s plans for a short-term response to COVID-19, including loosening grant restrictions and supporting the UN and WHO in fighting the “infodemic” through compelling, verified public health messaging. Lastly, the organization is trying to bring organization to donors’ response. “Donors are reacting, but not necessarily in a strategically coordinated fashion,” he said.

Luminate, along with several other funders, is trying to solve that with the Independent News Emergency Relief Coordination (INERC), led by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The new “temporary coordination mechanism” aims to use research to better understand what the needs are for emergency funding and to help funders who are in a position to offer emergency support, and coordinate their response. INERC will directly connect several major funders, networks organizing independent news media, media development orgs, and research capacity.

“We hope many of you will be interested in being part of this, as members or collaborators,” Reuters Institute Director Rasmus Nielsen said on the call.

We also heard from Alex Jakana of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about their work to help media organizations build up capacity to generate content that highlights world health issues. “Typically, the jobs that fall prey to cutbacks are health reporting, especially in the global south,” Jakana said. “Health becomes something that is covered with COVID-19, but we’re trying to make it more permanent on the news menu.”

Jakana detailed three areas that need support:

  • Misinformation: “It’s one of those things that has shot up in terms of urgency and quantity, but also in the number of people who are generating misinformation. We’re trying to identify the best way to build misinformation-resilient societies by increasing media literacy tactics and to slow the spread of misinformation through whatever tactics are available. We’re investing in research to understand the lay of the land to determine approach.”
  • Data journalism: “There’s no shortage of information coming out, but we struggle to find a coherent center for reliable data. For example, the WHO has a lot of data but struggle to relay that data effectively. Journalists have been that bridge. We’re exploring ways to create authoritative data hubs that would link journalists to data sets.”
  • Solutions journalism: “We think we need to highlight more solutions to this crisis. What are societies doing successfully in this challenging time? An increase in this kind of storytelling would be helpful … it helps to inoculate audiences to a climate of despair.”

Nienke Venema of the Democracy and Media Foundation in the Netherlands said her organization is focusing on checking in on grantees and using a survey to determine what they need. “We’ve been making a lot of phone calls to people we’re worried about,” Venema said. “It’s not easy to ask for funding, so we’re not expecting people to fill out a survey because of the power dynamic.”

Venema added that in addition to financing direct needs, the foundation is also bringing grantees together to share expertise.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is responding to the current crisis with continued support to journalists around the world who are reporting on vulnerable communities and who have solid distribution plans for getting that reporting seen. “For a long time, our mantra has been about the connection between local and global, and that has never been more clear,” said Nathalie Applewhite, managing director of the Pulitzer Center. “It’s inspiring to see responses from all of you.”

Applewhite said the Pulitzer Center has received more than 270 proposals focusing on COVID-19 work (over $4 million in requests), and so far the organization has committed $400,000.

Like the Pulitzer Center, Internews is both a grantmaker and a grant recipient, and has launched its own $100,000 unrestricted rapid response fund. “We’re spending a lot of time with partners to help make sure information is accessible for those who speak any language in the world,” said Jeanne Bourgault, president and CEO of Internews.

At the end of the call, we learned about efforts to sustain the artist community. We heard from Hajnal Molnar-Szakacs, director of the Documentary Film Fund at the Sundance Institute, whose core work is supporting artists, whether it’s film, media or theater. Molnar-Szakacs says Sundance set up a $1 million fund to provide immediate relief to the organization’s artists, and emergency support for the wider artist community.

Funders who missed this call but want to watch the recording or want more complete notes are encouraged to email us at info@mediafunders.org.

About the Author
Nina Sachdev

Nina Sachdev

Communications Director

Nina Sachdev brings more than 15 years of journalism, news editing and marketing experience to her role as the communications director for Media Impact Funders. She cut her teeth in journalism at The Dallas Morning News, where—as an intern on the copy desk—she was tasked with editing the obituaries of famous people who hadn’t yet died. Since then, Nina has worked at The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, The Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Weekly in almost every editorial capacity imaginable, including senior editor, A1 editor (when that used to be a thing) and slot (does anyone remember that being a thing?). Nina is the creator and editor of the award-winning The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, which exposes the reality of healing from the effects of sexual abuse. Nina holds an M.A. in journalism from Temple University.