The Pulitzer Center’s primary mission since its founding in 2006 has been to raise awareness of underreported global issues, with a focus on reaching U.S. news audiences through American media outlets and leveraging that in-depth reporting to teach students in K-12 schools and universities. As a nonprofit run by accomplished journalists, we award grants based on the journalistic merit of story proposals and without the ethical landmines faced by foundations that support media with the aim of achieving certain policy goals. Our model allows reporters with the best projects to conduct independent journalism and follow the facts, without bias or premeditated outcomes. Our model enables funders to raise awareness of critical global issues without having to be on the ground themselves, and to have lasting impact without risking controversy or criticism from restrictive governments who are suspicious of funders’ agendas. Critically, our model protects local journalists who might otherwise be branded as foreign agents of a partisan foundation, and allows us to reach wider audiences in the long term by building capacity in local journalism.
While most of our grants have gone to U.S.-based reporters whose work has been featured in national and regional outlets including the Associated Press, National Geographic, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, and USA Today, we’re eager to replicate our successes with smaller-scale efforts by supporting foreign journalists reporting for their own local, regional and national media.
We know that often the best way to expose systemic problems and effect change is for journalists who understand the issues to raise attention at home, where they can have the most impact: investigating conflicts over resources, weaknesses in healthcare systems or the effects of climate change in their own countries. But we also know that journalists in developing countries face barriers to publishing and distributing their stories more broadly. The Pulitzer Center bridges this gap by identifying the best talent, giving emerging and experienced reporters opportunities through grants, matching them up with key outlets, and amplifying their work beyond their borders.
Our years of experience establishing a wide network of journalists around the world has taught us that regional projects are resource-intensive, because of cultural and logistical challenges. But they have also proven deeply rewarding, both for the grantees and for us as an organization.
Successful partnerships with our funders that have advanced reporting by African and other regional journalists were made possible by grants from several foundations, including the Gates Foundation, enabling us to embark on a series of African regional journalism initiatives.
Our support began with an open call for proposals from West African journalists interested in covering water and sanitation. We funded four journalists, one each from Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Liberia, to report stories in their regional news outlets, and sent two U.S.-based journalists (including Steve Sapienza, the co-author of this article) to work with them on a series for PBS NewsHour that featured the African journalists as the correspondents. For Ameto Akpe, the reporter from Nigeria, the experience was transformational; it led to a Nieman fellowship and other prestigious fellowship placements since.
We also partnered four African journalists with two U.S.-based journalists to produce a body of reporting on reproductive health. Journalists from Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya worked on their own and then together with a Pulitzer Center grantee and a staff member, to produce reports on topics ranging from child brides in Nigeria to family planning in the refugee camps of Kenya. The reporting was featured in PRI’s The World, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor, The Nation, and Front Page Africa.
A challenge grant from the Omidyar Network enabled us to organize and hold a workshop in Lagos with Nigerian reporters and students, who we then invited to apply for a Pulitzer grant to report on land issues for regional media outlets. We selected Bukola Adebayo and partnered her with Code for Nigeria to produce a multimedia story about sand mining in the slums of Lagos for her newspaper, The Punch, and then promoted her work widely in the United States. She is now a correspondent for CNN.
Last year, again thanks to Omidyar Network, we launched a data journalism initiative focused on property rights. Two of the five projects we chose involved African reporters and/or data journalists. The South African-based investigative reporting organization Oxpeckers worked with Mozambican journalist Estacio Valoi and Code for Africa to produce a data-driven multimedia story called “Kruger’s Contested Borderlands.” Another grantee is using a novel approach to her investigation by working with South Sudanese journalists and a local mobile phone company to unearth data about forced migrations during conflicts.
We’ve recently also launched the Rainforest Journalism Fund, a major five-year initiative, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment through the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). The initiative will support nearly 200 original reporting projects, over the next five years, including 135 grants to local reporters from the Congo basin, the Amazon and Southeast Asia.
The Pulitzer Center now supports 150 projects a year, working with hundreds of outlets around the country, and increasingly, the world. As an intermediary funder, the Pulitzer Center serves as a trusted and experienced journalism partner at the local level–and within a much broader media ecosystem. For other funders looking to expand their philanthropy globally, the projects we support should serve as an important reminder that while the local and the global are inextricably connected, funders don’t need to be on the ground to make a lasting impact.
By Nathalie Applewhite, Pulitzer Center Managing Director, and Steve Sapienza, Pulitzer Center Senior Producer
This essay appears in Global Media Philanthropy: What Funders Need to Know About Data, Trends
and Pressing Issues Facing the Field. With so many pressing issues affecting the media funding space as well as specific regional considerations around grantmaking strategies and priorities, Media Impact Funders turned to experts from the field and asked them to share insights across a range of media issues. Listening to those working on the ground is essential for understanding challenges and opportunities in a global context, and these essays offer critical insights that funders need to understand in the global media ecosystem. Opinions offered by essay authors are their own.