It was great to be back in Oxford, England, earlier this month for the Skoll World Forum, a unique gathering of donors and doers from around the world. From the opening courageous conversation between Carole Cadwalladr and Nobel Prize-winning editor and author Maria Ressa, one of the central messages of this year’s World Forum was on the dangers of attacks on press freedom and the corrosive impact of misinformation on all of the vexing issues undermining social justice around the world.
Those concerns echoed in panel sessions elsewhere throughout the event. There were important panels on transparency and accountability focused on climate action and on spotlighting the global impact of digital threats. Tristan Harris from the Center for Humane Tech offered a sobering assessment of the present moment in the development of artificial intelligence, a moment that threatens to tip over a cliff into dangerous powers and practices if we don’t create essential restraints to prevent catastrophic system failures.
For our part, Media Impact Funders was pleased to convene a pre-conference discussion on creating a positive future in social media with an inspiring array of experts to explore ways philanthropy and the technology industry can work together to create platforms and products that would enable people to share information respectfully. We highlighted the work of colleagues Deepti Doshi at New Public and Raffi Krikorian from the Emerson Collective. (We’ll have another opportunity to hear about Deepti’s work at New Public at KQED in San Francisco on June 1, when we meet for our annual Media Impact Forum. If you are a funder, please join us to continue the conversation.)
For me, one of the biggest highlights of the Skoll World was seeing Maryland Gov. Wes Moore in an uplifting speech, recognizing the contributions of all the Skoll Awardees and encouraging the full assembly to help build a more just society—especially starting in his home state of Maryland. (Wes Moore’s mom is Joy Thomas Moore, a longtime member of the MIF Board of Directors.) Gov. Moore was back in his element, a rock star among social entrepreneurs and a veteran of the academic halls, the local pubs and the hidden alleyways of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar not many years ago. Perhaps his most useful guidance for visitors: “Warm beer does not get better with time!”
The following week, it appeared that all of global journalism had descended upon the ancient hilltop city of Perugia, Italy, for the annual International Journalism Festival. The festival’s founders and directors Christopher Potter and Arianna Ciccone have created a vast and egalitarian feast of knowledge, open to all on a first-come, first-served basis and set in the elaborate and ornately decorated venues scattered throughout the historic center of town. It’s really impossible in a few lines to summarize what took place over five days, but the good news is that most of the sessions were recorded and are available for anyone to view in archives.
Across the festival, we heard many challenging accounts of journalism under threat and on the verge of crisis, from continued financial strain to attacks by autocratic rulers who understand the value of controlling media outlets.
In a session on blended funding, Media Development Investment Fund’s Patrice Schneider described a new investment fund, Pluralis, designed to offer impact investing resources for media outlets that might otherwise be vulnerable to media capture. Kjersti Løken Stavrum, CEO of the Tinius Trust, offered a breath of fresh air, representing a significant media funder connected to a strong and independent media group. “A free press is not a poor press,” she said. “You need resources to have true freedom.” And session moderator Paul Nemitz, a principal advisor to the DG Justice European Commission, underscored the message of the importance of philanthropic investments with a related point: “This is a real political battle. And civil society actors have to engage in the political battles that will shape our media environment and to battle media capture. All the more reason to have blended funding, because politics won’t sort it all out.”
Media Impact Funders organized a parallel panel on the growing opportunities for philanthropy to engage in mission investing activities to sustain public interest media and civic information. We were joined by the Media Development Investment Fund, New Media Ventures (NMV) and the National Trust for Local News, which all work to support both nonprofit and for-profit beneficiaries with grants and investments.
Elsewhere at the festival, in addition to countless panels on every imaginable topic from developments in artificial intelligence to decolonizing journalism to attacks on press freedom and many more, there were also several panels devoted to media philanthropy. There was a traditional philanthropy panel on how to make meaningful grants, with representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates and Open Society Foundations, along with European funders from the Adessium and Media and Democracy Foundations. Another panel focused on how journalism’s growing infrastructure support system is catalyzing digital newsrooms, with contributions from the Knight Foundation and the News Revenue Hub, among others. And there was also an important panel on what donors need to hear from the Global South, with former director of the journalism program at Open Society Foundations, Maria Teresa Ronderos, among others.
In addition to all of the public panels, we also convened a special breakfast meeting for funders attending the festival, including many from the United States and others from around Europe. If you are a funder contemplating a trip to next year’s festival, please let us know and we will be happy to invite you to participate in our funder gathering there.
Wherever you are, whenever you watch, the International Journalism Festival is sure to enlighten and inform you of the urgent issues facing journalism and society throughout the world.